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Tiger swimmers no longer underdogs

May 09, 2002|By ERIC GALVAN

Sports Writer

When the Imperial High boys and girls swim teams were preparing for this season's competition, expectations were fairly high but there were some questions about the young squads.

With only one senior and three juniors on the two teams, Imperial's squads would undoubtedly have struggles, particularly considering the two teams combined for only one win last year.

So when the regular season ended last week and both had finished in second place in the Imperial Valley League with 4-2 marks, everyone was surprised.


Well, just about everyone.

"I think we were strong from the start. We knew that we could do it and we were pretty confident about ourselves," said 16-year-old junior and girls captain Diana Verdugo. "People might not have thought that we would've done so well, but we knew we could."

As much as the Imperial swimmers believed in themselves, head coach Chris Fowlkes had some questions.

"The very first day I watched about half of the team swim and I just thought to myself, ‘This is going to be a long year,'" said Fowlkes. "I mean, I thought I was going to have to jump in there and help some of them finish. It just didn't look good."

But a few months later, Fowlkes' squads have turned into legitimate contenders and will have their shot at making believers out of everyone beginning at 3 today as they compete in the IVL finals at the Lions' Center in Brawley along with Central Union, Southwest and host team Brawley.

While the final IVL team standings had Brawley's boys and girls taking first (both finished 6-0) and Imperial's teams taking second, today's meet will give all the schools a chance to send swimmers to the CIF San Diego Section postseason.

Throughout the year swimmers were able to qualify for CIF with automatic or consideration times. The IVL meet gives swimmers one last chance to qualify for CIF.

Imperial's boys 200 freestyle relay team of Tommy Dale, Tony Deen, Ricky DePaula and Blake Seeger is the only Tiger squad with a time good enough for consideration (1 minute, 46 seconds). With that in mind, everyone on Imperial's team will look to keep their season going just a little longer.

"Everything that we've done all year has built up to this," said the team's only senior, 17-year-old Frankie Martinez. "We've been strong all season and compared to last year, we've put in a lot more effort. And it all comes down to this."

While Martinez and Verdugo know what to expect from IVLs, the whole experience of the IVL finals, where every team in the Valley is present, could be overwhelming for the younger competitors, Others, though, could use it to drive them.

"I think if anything, knowing that everyone's there watching and we're under the scope, it just gives you more motivation to swim better," said 15-year-old sophomore Stephanie Bush, in her first year of competitive swimming. "I don't feel stressed about it at all. I'm just going out there to have fun. I just want people to know that when it's all over that we all went out there, tried our best and gave it our all."

Despite how any Imperial swimmers finish, and whether or not they qualify for CIF, all those involved with the team know it does not take away from what the Tigers accomplished.

Imperial assistant coach Heather Jackson swam for the team last year and was one of the bright spots in a rather forgettable 2001 season.

"I've been thoroughly impressed with how they've done. I was actually kind of surprised with the year they had," said Jackson, who graduated from Imperial in 2001. "There are a lot of great kids out here and no matter what happens, it definitely does not take away from everything they've done this year."

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