A dozen UC Davis senior women swimmers and divers — led by the brilliant breaststroker Lilliana Alvarez — hope the last of their four seasons together brings a third Mountain Pacific Sports Federation crown.
“This is a solid group,” Aggie head coach Barbara Jahn told The Enterprise. “I’m so proud of what these 12 were able to do. Being a four-year student is hard enough. Being a four-year student-athlete puts you on a pedestal.”
Alvarez, who has qualified for the first rung of the NCAA Championships in each of her previous three seasons, is joined by classmates Katie Edwards, Sarah Winters, Karley Troup, Maya Sprinsock, Emily Rodgers, Haley Porter, Sabrina Cochrane, Devon DeMont, Lauren Jesse, Megan Leung and Jen Meyer.
“This is an elite group,” said Jahn, in her 39th season with UCD. “Not many do what they’re doing while in college and graduate.”
Alvarez, although a qualifier last spring, missed the NCAAs because of a ruptured ear drum. Nonetheless, Jahn saw the very aspect of qualifying as a mighty accomplishment by Alvarez. She also believes missing out on the festivities associated with the finals can serve as additional motivation this year.
“She knows what it takes,” Jahn added. “(The injury) makes her more hungry to go … and now we’ve got a team where there might be a couple of others individuals that qualify.”
Jahn said a group of Aggies in Minneapolis, Minn., in March would “be more fun. It’s motivating to have other people there with you — not just your coach.”
So who are some of those others who could approach national qualifying numbers?
Samantha Shellem, a junior from LaVerne by way of Cal, is a strong 200 and 500 freestyler. Versatile Edwards (who attended Hawaii and American River College) is a junior who could put up dazzling numbers on the individual medley, freestyle or breaststroke boards.
Freshman Hilvy Cheung (American High of Fremont) is a swift 100 and 200 butterfly specialist who might progress enough to see action after February’s MPSF championship meet.
Jahn also mentions backstroker Hilary Hunt (a junior from Archbishop Mitty) as another Aggie “who keeps getting better and better every year.”
But it’s San Anselmo product Alvarez whose wake could bring back-to-back conference titles.
Last year she went 100.47 in the 100 breast and 2:12.04 in the 200 — both times were second-best all-time in Aggie annuls, and lofty among the nationally clocked times of 2013.
But those UCD record books are dotted with women on this 2013-14 squad …
Shellem owns the school standard in both the 500 (4:45.60) and 1,000 (10:04.98) free, helped teammates Edwards, Porter and Hunt set the 200 free relay record (1:32.02) and aided Edwards, Bridget Bugbee (Class of 2013) and Porter in setting the 800 (7:14.45) relay mark.
Alvarez, Hunt, Porter and Leung own the 200 medley standard (1:40.42).
Edward’s 1:47.11 is an Aggie high-water mark in the 200 free and Hunt owns the 200 backstroke best time (1:58.82).
Diver Hannah Tears (278.40 points) has the 1-meter record (six dives, dual meet) while Audrey DeNeffe’s 210.05 points is the Aggie platform dive all-time best.
All these records came during UCD’s drive to the MPSF title last spring.
In winning the league crown, the Aggies collected 673.5 points, 38 up on second-place Brigham Young and comfortably ahead of third-place Hawaii. UC Santa Barbara, Jahn’s alma mater, was fourth with Cal Poly, San Diego, Pacific and Loyola Marymount as also-rans.
“In positions nine through 16 … we had more points than BYU, Hawaii and Santa Barbara combined,” Jahn said. “Our quality depth is what made the difference.”
Is that depth there again for UCD?
“Even more so,” Jahn added, while cautioning that everyone in the conference has improved.
Longtime swim program administrative assistant Rick Henderson, a Woodland resident, “swims the meet on paper,” Jahn said. “Rick says MPSF is going be really close between BYU, UCD and Hawaii.”
After six weeks of workouts and last weekend’s Blue-and-Gold exhibition, the Aggies are ready to hit the pool in earnest. On Saturday, UCD travels to Stockton for the Pacific Invitational with the Tigers and San Diego State.
The Aggies don’t compete at home until Jan. 11 when Fresno State is in town for a swim-only dual. On Jan. 24, UCD swimmers and divers compete when UCSB comes calling. Two days later, Loyola Marymount is at Schaal Aquatics Center (no diving). The last two home dates are MPSF dual meets.
Notes: Former UCD men’s coach Pete Motekaitis and diving coach Phil Tonne assist Jahn. In addition to Henderson (who, as interim head coach for the 1983 women, took UCD to a fourth-place NCAA finish), 2012 Olympic swimmer and ex-Aggie Scott Weltz is a volunteer coach. Weltz was just named to the U.S. National Men’s Swim Team as a 200 breaststroke specialist. … Jahn now has two pair of sisters on her club: senior Karley Troup’s sister Lexy has transferred from UCLA. Megan Leung’s sister Kaitlin is a freshman. The Troups are from Danville; the Leungs are San Francisco natives.
— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at email@example.com