*Editor’s note: This is the eighth in a 12-part series previewing Davis High’s spring sports.
They are the defending Sac-Joaquin Section girls swim champions — and at first blush, the Blue Devils are young and once again loaded.
But between that May title and now, there has been a significant change …
Gone is veteran Davis High coach Doug Wright, replaced by another longtime swim mentor, Tracy Stapleton, who now heads both boys and girls programs.
Wright, 42, and his wife Lori have two young children — Malaya, 7, and Luke, 3 — and he believes the time is right “to spend more time with my family.”
While Wright will be missed, given the top-to-bottom depth of this Devil swim edition and Stapleton’s proven pool record, the locals should be in the mix for their 18th CIF crown come the end of the season.
“I like how things are going so far,” Stapleton says of managing both swim teams. “We’ve created a structure on the girls’ side similar to what I do with the boys. It’s getting to know them, communicating in the consistent fashion and (having them) know what to expect from coaches and each other.”
This spring, the boys and girls will train together — varsity in one group, freshmen and sophomores in the other.
“It allows for an emphasis in training different levels of swimmers while providing more streamlined, accurate instruction,” Stapleton continues, knowing this DHS girls’ squad could be special.
Stanford-bound senior sensation Tara Halsted spent part of last summer in Omaha, Neb., where she finished 57th (out of 190 competitors) in the Olympic Trials’ 200-meter backstroke (2:16.88). Missy Franklin eventually won U.S. gold in 2:04.06.
“(Halsted) can pretty much do everything,” Stapleton says. “She sprints well, does all the strokes and distance.”
In 2012, Halsted captured section titles in the 500-yard freestyle (4:55.70) and 100 backstroke (55.63) while joining Alex Rieger, Kathleen Benjamin and Beverly Nguyen in setting a new SJS record (1:44.66) to win the 200 medley relay.
Benjamin and Rieger return to the DHS squad this season, while Nguyen is swimming for Princeton.
Rieger, a junior, also swam to the 100 free title.
“Alex can sprint and freestyle,” Stapleton says. “She’s just a thoroughbred. She is really good.”
Benjamin is expected to tackle many of the strokes and to reunite with Halsted and Rieger as part of the medley relay quartet.
But remember, for all their 2012 success, these Blue Devils are youthful.
Only Halsted and Marissa LaFreniere, who is committed to UC Davis, are seniors.
LaFreniere — like her 11th-grade sister Alex — should be piling up the points for the locals in sprints and freestyles.
Sophomores like versatile Emma Barksdale (strokes), breaststroker Julianna Chan, butterfly specialist Vivian Crow and Colby Stapleton (butterfly and backstroke) should be blazing through the water. Crow is new to the team, but each 10th-grader, according to the coach, will be a key ingredient in Davis’ title run.
In addition, juniors Heather Johnson, Emma Meads, Alice Renaud and Kim Zhu should add speed.
“Heather has really come on in backstroke and distance freestyle recently,” Stapleton says.
And while all those swimmers bring enough experience and/or promise to give most squads great confidence, there’s more …
The Devils boasts 12 freshmen — and some are expected to make big splashes.
For example, Holmes Junior High student Chenoa Devine has been putting up college-level times in distance races. She swam shoulder-to-shoulder with Halsted in the 500 freestyle in Walnut Creek two weeks ago.
The Emerson duo of Gabriella Maffly and Lanna Kozlowski are two of what Stapleton calls “question marks as freshmen, but could be coming on.”
It all begins in earnest on Saturday at the Jesuit Invitational.
Following an early Delta Valley Conference matchup with Franklin, the Blue Devils head to a weekend meet at Woodcreek March 8 and 9.
— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-747-8047.