Last year, the Davis High boys swimming team was just 4.5 points away from claiming its 10th Sac-Joaquin Section title, and first since 2003, but was clipped by rival Jesuit 239.5-235.
Despite the close loss, the second-place finish was something of a moral victory as the Blue Devils were dealing with injuries and inexperience.
“Last year, we lost one of our better swimmers to injury but we had other athletes step up and make major contributions,” said DHS coach Tracy Stapleton. “We ended up getting second, but we were tickled to death that we got to second.”
But those young swimmers have matured and healed over the past nine months and second place will no longer be good enough for the deep and talented Devils.
“You’re always competing for the section title. If you’re not, then you aren’t setting the bar high enough,” said Stapleton, who also coaches the Davis girls team. “We’ve been close for a couple of years now and we want to get it done this year and I think we have a chance.”
Among the Blue Devils’ returning standouts are seniors Matt Whittle and Jonathan Pun, who next year will swim at Cal and Pacific, respectively, and junior Riley Hickman.
Whittle showed his versatility at last season’s section finals, winning both the 200 individual medley and the 100 butterfly, while Pun took second in the 100 breaststroke and Hickman touched first in both the 100 and 200 freestyle.
Those three swimmers look to form the backbone of what should be a multitude of imposing DHS relay teams.
“That group of guys is really that core group of our team and they have been for a couple of years now,” Stapleton said.
But if the Devils want to get that 10th section championship, they can’t just rely on the stars. It will have to be a team effort, incorporating the experienced swimmers as well as the freshmen and sophomores.
In addition to the standout veterans, Stapleton has a few freshmen who could have big impacts this season including Cameron Wright, Daniel Alvarez and Tucker Fisk, the son of former 12-year NFL defensive tackle Jason Fisk, a DHS graduate.
“We have a new group of freshmen that will be, pardon the pun, making waves,” Stapleton said. “But there’s always a little bit of the unknown (with freshmen). But the best performing swimmers are going to make varsity no matter what.”
The Blue Devils open their season Friday at the Jesuit Invitational while Delta Valley Conference dual meets begin March 2 when Elk Grove comes to Arroyo Pool.
Notes: Stapleton is assisted by former DHS and Stanford swimmer Jake Allen. … After winning their inaugural section championship in 1988, the Devils won titles two through nine in eight consecutive years from 1996 to 2003. They have finished as runners-up twice since then: in 2007, when Allen was swimming for the team, and last year.
— Reach Evan Ream at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanReam