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FREMONT — The sky hovering above the pool at Ohlone College was Carolina blue and cloudless. The shining sun reflects off the water, helping maintain a roughly 65 degree temperature. Swimmers would call this a good day for competition. Except for one problem. 

The wind.

It’s gusting on this Friday afternoon, March 15, flinging the backstroke flags over the pool in every direction. One such flurry yanked off the snapback cap off a Chabot coach, flinging the black hat across the ground before slamming it against the fence enclosing the pool area. For those in normal street wear, that was the most damage the wind could do. But for those competing in the water, it brought a much different challenge. Keeping warm between races is vital to avoid tightening muscles and stiff bodies.

“Even though it’s not that bad,” Coach Jason Craighead said of the wind, “as soon as you get wet and the wind picks up, it gets real cold real fast. So yeah, wind is not ideal.”

On this day, though, Las Positas managed to beat Ohlone, Chabot and the wind.

The Hawks swim team placed first in all but three of the 20 events at the Ohlone Tri-Meet. Samantha Fehr, Ethan Santiago and Amy Heath were some of the Hawks to impress, each winning their two individual events. While they had success in the individual events, the conditions made it challenging for the Hawks to improve their overall season times.

The Hawks tested out different competitions and race strategies, formulating different medley groups to gain more experience. With only three meets left until the Coast Conference Championships on April 18, the Hawks are constructing a game plan for who should partake in which events for their best chance at a championship this season. 

“We race a lot of different things to give ourselves opportunity,” Craighead said, “and a lot of races to choose from as we work our way down to the end of the season.”

Sophomore diver Zachary Ulrich, who also swims freestyle and breastroke, chats with teammates between races at Ohlone Tri-Meet on March 15, 2024. (Photo by Jakob Arnarsson/ The Express)

Last season the Hawks men’s team won the Coast Conference Championship, with the women placing second. The men then went on to place fourth in the State Championship. This year, the Hawks are set for another good run in the Championships, with the men being led by sophomores Zachary Zauhar-Kurr and Ryan Ridosko, who are top five in the state in a combined 15 events. Meanwhile the women are led by Samantha Fehr, who is in the top 20 in the state in three events.

This small Tri-Meet mainly served as a chance to iron out any technical issues still lingering in the Hawks preparation for this year’s Championship. 

“Our focus was to work on a lot of little things that we have been working on in practice,” Craighead said. “With time and placing being secondary with racing strategy and technique.”

The conditions forced the swimmers to constantly wrap themselves up in their towels or school branded swim parka. Others chose to stay in the pool, so while the first few lanes were filled with high action racing, the far lanes saw much calmer treading of the water, as competitors looked to keep their body temperature high. 

Even with the Hawks focused on their techniques, they still found themselves topping the time sheet. 

Zauhar-Kurr and Ridosko continued to impress. Zauhar-Kurr placed first in the 200 and 400 meter individual medleys. His 400 meter time of 4:11.34 was roughly two seconds behind his own state best time of 4:09.79 this season. This performance comes two weeks removed from a record setting day, as Zauhar-Kurr set a new school record for the 200 meter Butterfly (1:56.85) during the De Anza Invitational on March 1.

Ridosko was one of the few Hawks who improved on their personal best times. His winning 500 meter freestyle time of 4:49.91 improved his season best time by three and a half seconds. The results catapulted him from seventh to third-fastest 500 time in the state. 

The Hawks also experimented with different medley groups, which saw a mix of results. One women’s group showcased a strong 400 medley relay run, finishing with a time of 4:45.08, 0.87 seconds off the 20th fastest time in the state.  

The Hawks’ next meet will bring a much different challenge, as they take on the Santa Rosa Junior College Prelims and Finals, a much different and larger meet than this Tri-Meet. SRJC, held over three days (March 21-23), mimics the conference and state championships. For each event, all the entry swimmers compete in the morning, with the top 16 finishers coming back in the afternoon to compete for the official event title. 

“It’s a unique meet,” Craighead said. “They basically mimic our championship and state format. So it’s three days, prelims and finals… So it’s a good chance for us to practice and run some events that we think people would be doing at Champs. Learn how to get up early, travel, swim, rest, swim, and then come back home and then do that for three days. It takes some getting used to.” 

To help prepare his group for the daunting strain of the Championship format, Craighead used the Ohlone Tri-Meet to run some longer races, while also testing out different groups for the team relay events. As the season progresses towards the final stretch, Craighead begins to shift the focus to narrowing down each individual’s best meets to compete in for the Championships.

“It’s not always our favorite races or our best races that we’re gonna be swimming in Championships,” Craighead said. “It’s the races that are gonna score us the most amount of points to give us the best chance to win a Championship.”

Top photo: Zach Zauhar-Kurr swims the breaststroke leg of the medley at the Ohlone Tri-Meet. (Photo by JaKob Arnarsson/ The Express)

Jakob Arnarsson is the Sports Editor of The Express. Follow him on X, formally Twitter, @JakobA2004.

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