*Editor’s note: This is the seventh in a 12-part series previewing Davis High’s spring sports.
Just 11 points removed from Sac-Joaquin Section champion Granite Bay last spring, the Davis High boys swim team should have razor-sharp focus during what could be a watershed season.
“Do we have enough to (win a title)?” veteran Blue Devil coach Tracy Stapleton repeats the question. “Yes. There are a lot of unknowns probably between now and section. But I think it will be us, Jesuit, Rio (Americano) and Granite Bay.”
When the Grizzlies (245 points) nipped the Marauders (243) for the crown, there was DHS at 234 — soooooo close in third.
With a young team this year — only four seniors among 42 swimmers — Stapleton ponders his main torpedoes with excitement.
Sophomore Riley Hickman and junior Matt Whittle were huge contributors in 2012. Hickman helped teammates Jonathan Pun, Connor Stapleton and Whittle set a new SJS record when the quartet won the 200-yard medley relay in 1:33.94.
Whittle also won the 100 butterfly (48.98) and 100 breaststroke (55.74). The latter time tied former Devil Keenan Newman for another section mark.
Meanwhile, Hickman’s 1:40.30 captured the to spot in the 200 freestyle.
“I really enjoyed working with him as a ninth-grader,” Stapleton says of Hickman. “This year he has so much more confidence and poise … he’s bought into the program in a wonderful way.”
Also ready to cut a rugged wake for DHS is Whittle.
“He can swim just about anything,” Stapleton says. “He is great at the strokes (butterfly, breast, back). He is the real deal.”
With seniors Connor Stapleton, Adam Raabe and Andrew Block returning, the Blue Devils have a versatile front line that — should they simply maintain some of their numbers from last season — will send the locals into the Sac-Joaquin championship battle.
“Connor has great credibility as an athlete,” Tracy Stapleton says of his son, who is headed to Stanford on a water polo scholarship. “He trains hard … doesn’t swim year-round, but can do any stroke.”
Stapleton also praised the other two point-making 12th-graders:
“I’ve known Adam since he was a little boy … he’s unbelievably coachable and strong in the distances and freestyle.
“Andrew is going to help us with the IM and breaststroke. Another versatile swimmer who adds to our senior leadership.”
But it’s the supporting cast — or the emergence of the next big aquatics name — that could be the difference between also-ran status and title No. 10 for the Davis boys.
“We have a crew of people who could play a pivotal role come sections,” Stapleton continues.
Guys like juniors Zac Anderson, Graham Fullerton, Garrett Fisk, Wyatt Millstone and Tyler Ujifusa join sophomores Torin Halsted and Brad Nicholson and freshmen Sean Li, Ben Culberson and Owen Yancher as wildcards who are expected to grow and add valuable points when the chips are down in May, according to Stapleton.
“Where are they going to be? The thing is to communicate to them that ‘you could be difference-maker,’ ” says Stapleton, who is in his 25th season coaching. “The margin between first and third last year was (slim). Given that, you’re talking a 14th-place finish could be the difference in (team) placing.”
The Devils’ goal is to get as many qualifiers to sections as possible. Sixteen or 18 swimmers are expected to be in the starting grid during those trials and finals at Tokay High on May 10-11.
Along the way, there are some interesting stops …
Friday and Saturday, the locals swim in the Jesuit Invitational. Delta Valley Conference competition has an early start when Franklin comes to Arroyo Pool at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, March 5. Jesuit, Davis and Bellarmine meet on March 22 in Sacramento. The NorCal Challenge (Woodcreek on April 12-13) and Palo Alto Section Challenge (April 20) should get the Blue Devil boys ready for the finals.
Stapleton, who this spring also takes over as coach of the DHS girls swim program, has Ro Davis and Matt Crawford as assistants. Davis is a longtime area aquatics mentor, who won a CIF water polo title at Fairfield High. Crawford has spent several seasons with Stapleton after a distinguished pool career at UC Davis.
“Ro will be involved at the varsity level of both teams and Matt will focus on the frosh-soph swimmers,” the head coach told The Enterprise.
— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at email@example.com or 530-747-8047.