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Wildcats dominating competition

March 26, 2001|By ERIC GALVAN, Sports Writer

BRAWLEY — Stepping off the bus and walking to the Central Union High School's swimming pool in El Centro on Thursday, it was evident the Brawley Union High swim team was being gunned for as signs around the pool read: "Drown those kitties."

The signs weren't to be taken literally, but the message was loud and clear regarding what Central was looking to do, particularly on the girls side. The Brawley girls responded with a 128-44 thrashing to improve their record to 4-0.

Many have tried to intimidate the Brawley girls team, but the Wildcats have stayed focused and have ripped through their competition for the past four seasons, becoming one of the most dominant teams in the Imperial Valley. Not bad considering the core of the team revolves around seven sophomores and juniors.

Leading Brawley is 16-year-old junior Brooke Pace, possibly the best high school swimmer in the Valley, male or female. Other standouts are juniors Stephanie Luckey, 16, Lauren Roberts, 16, Denae Smith, 16, and Marianne Wenzel, 17, who already have two Imperial Valley League championships and are working on their third. Sophomores Tracy King, 16, and Jennifer Cardenas, 15, round out this squad and have not lost a dual meet in their high school careers.

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Success didn't come overnight for the Wildcats. On average, the seven have been swimming competitively for 11 years.

"At first swimming was just something that I did for fun," said Wenzel. "But as the years have gone by it's gotten a lot more serious and more competitive."

Said Roberts of Brawley's success: "This took years of practice with really good coaching. It takes a lot of determination and self-discipline to do this. There are people who think swimming is easy and think they can do this, but when they get out here they realize just how difficult it actually is."

Where the difficulty lies isn't on the physical side of swimming but the mental. While swimming can be as rigorous and physically demanding as any sport, it also requires a great deal of mental toughness. For Luckey, the breakdown in swimming is 75 percent mental and 25 percent physical.

A swimmer can only push her body so much and having a strong mental edge can ready the athlete for competition. So far for the Wildcats, everything has come together mentally and physically.

Cardenas said there still is some more work to be done.

"There's always room for improvement," said Cardenas. "But right now, almost everyone is at their peak. There's really not much more we can do."

Said Luckey: "When it comes to meets we're basically our biggest competition. Everybody pushes each other. We couldn't do this without the rest of the team."

While these seven are the core of the group, they all agreed the support of all their teammates is what's made the team successful. Because they are pushed by up-and-coming teammates, all have to stay on top of their swimming game.

While athletes in most local sports usually have to wait until the end of the regular season to find out their CIF San Diego Section post-season fates, the Wildcats, only four meets into their season, already know they have qualified for 10 of 11 events (five automatics, five considerations).

"I think this team has already reached its potential and we're all ready for CIF," said King. "We're looking to send a real strong team to CIF. Even though we've already qualified for some events, we know that we still have to push ourselves even harder to get better."

Always wanting to improve and not settling with what has already been accomplished is part of what separates the team.

Said head coach D'Ann Luckey of her squad: "Since I started coaching, this particular team is the best we've had here. The potential we have with this group of sophomores and juniors and the group of freshman we have … we're going to see this team continue to stay strong.

"They're a fun team to be around and they're all self-motivated with a lot of drive. They have a good sense of team pride and each one of them makes good role models and just really inspires the rest of the team."

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