Heading into the biggest event of the season, LPC’s swim and dive team came away proud of its performance at State Championships.
Head Coach Jason Craighead normally holds his team to a high standard and it was no different this time around. Even he came away surprised with how well his team performed this past weekend in Los Angeles.
“I though we were outstanding, exceeded my expectations,” Craighead said. “We had some goals set from the beginning and we surpassed them. Everyone swam faster than I thought they would.”
The biggest accomplishment for Craighead was when sophomore standout Justin Stafford finished third in the 50 freestyle. On the surface, third place may not seem all that special, but it was Stafford’s time that really impressed his coach.
“Justin’s 50 freestyle was the biggest surprise,” Craighead said. “Before State I went in and wrote ‘20’ on his snorkel, that was our goal from the beginning and he got really close at American River and swam okay at Conference but I wasn’t quite sure if we were gonna pull it off.”
Stafford proceeded to turn in times of 20.9 and 20.8 in his two swims, clinching his goal of finishing with a time in the 20s.
“He was just thrilled and I was excited because that’s a big goal,” Craighead said. “That’s a pretty impressive time to be under 21 seconds.”
The 50-yard freestyle requires supreme precision. One slip-up and your entire time can be ruined.
“50 free is the equivalent of the 100 meter dash for track and field, it’s gotta be dead-on perfect from start to finish,” Craighead said.
This is not a goal that was just achieved overnight. Stafford had been working towards this since his sophomore year at Liberty High School in Brentwood. He was beyond ecstatic when finding out about his under-21 time.
“It was awesome!” Stafford said. “I’ve been trying to finish in the 20s since I was a sophomore in high school and it feels good to finally get it done. It was a goal I’ve been working on forever.”
It took him all the way until the final meet of his LPC career to do it, but better late than never.
As for what is next for Stafford, he plans to eventually transfer to a four-year school where he can swim.
For now, he will continue to practice and take his goals of a sub-20 time to another level.
“I’ll be around and keep practicing,” Stafford said. “Another year and I think I can get into the 19s.”
Another big performance for LPC came in the 200-yard medley relay.
“200 medley was not far behind for biggest surprise,” Craighead said. “I did not expect to finish sixth in State.”
The relay team featured a group of freshmen. Luke Shaffer, Brad Severin, Austin Johnson and Brett Melloch. Going up against the state’s best swimmers in just his first season, Severin was honored just to be at State competing with the top schools.
“It’s all fresh new and exciting and I was just glad to be a part of it,” Severin said.
Although Severin made it to State as a member of the relay team, he hopes to get back next year for even more events.
“I plan on coming back next year and hopefully making State in an individual event instead of just relays.”
Looking ahead to next season, Severin believes the team will only be stronger.
“As a team we’re hoping to win Conference next year,” Severin said. “We narrowly finished in second and I think next year we expect to win it all.”
The women were also represented at State.
Keeping with the freshman theme, Donna Rotella competed in the one-meter and three-meter dive events. Rotella finished 13th with a score of 148.45 in the one-meter board and seventh in the three-meter with a score of 180.70.
It was not the perfect result, but Craighead believes this experience will help her become a leader for the team next season.
“She’s been a motivator this year already and we’ll look for her to help lead the team next season,” Craighead said.
Overall, Craighead is pleased with the way the season turned out. He feels he and his coaches got their swimmers well prepared and set them up to succeed.
“Our season’s a little bit different,” Craighead said. You get one shot and you gotta be on as opposed to other team sports where your record dictates how your season is going to play out. Our goal from the beginning was to get relays to state and we did that.”