Three Balers take individual swim titles

Zander Bonnet qualified for the CCS Championships in the 100 freestyle, 100 backstroke and 400 free relay.

For each of their own reasons, Elizabeth Fleming, Ryan Okubo and Zander Bonnet had memorable performances in the Monterey Bay League Swimming Championships last Saturday at Hartnell College.

All three won Gabilan Division titles, with Fleming victorious in the 50 yard freestyle (25.75 seconds), Okubo in the 200 individual medley (2 minutes, 12.35 seconds) and Bonnet repeating as champion in the 100 backstroke (57.65). All three established PRs (personal-records) in their respective events, making their accomplishments all the more rewarding.

In addition to the trio’s triumph, the San Benito High boys 200 free relay team of Bonnet, Josh Corrigan, Ben Smith and Gordan Rianda was victorious in 1:35.35, blowing away the field in the process. Although Fleming didn’t qualify for the upcoming CCS Championships, the sophomore laid the groundwork to hit qualifying marks in the years to come.

Fleming’s previous PR in the 50 free was 26 flat, and she credited her latest performance to double days—practicing in the morning at the high school starting at 6 a.m. and in the afternoon with her club team, San Benito Aquatics.

“I’ve been working harder with my club coach to improve my strokes and turnovers of the strokes,” she said.

Fleming, who also made an impact on the basketball and volleyball teams this past season, still counts swimming as her best sport. So much so that Fleming wrote a letter to herself five days before the league finals, a soul-baring and introspective piece that got her mentally prepared to swim her fastest 50 free yet.

“I wrote how hard I’ve been working to make CCS,” Fleming said. “I imagined myself doing it, how it would all work out. Sadly, I did not make CCS, but I also wrote in my letter that I wanted to get first in league, and I got that.”

Fleming read the letter to herself everyday, and once she got on the blocks, she repeated this mantra: “You can do this. You can do this.” Talented and hard working, Fleming will be one of the league’s top returners in 2018, waiting to unleash faster times. The same can be said of Okubo, a junior who won the 500 free last year but finished second in the event this season.

However, Okubo finished first in the individual medley in 2:12.35. Solid in all the strokes, Okubo was competing in the 200 IM regularly this season for the first time in his career. Okubo didn’t sound overly excited a couple of days after winning the 200 IM; however, he had plenty of motivation to swim a fast time.

“Zander gave me incentive to try to beat his time (in the 200 IM),” Okubo said. “I’m trying to improve my stroke work on all the strokes so I can try to beat him one day. … I have to give credit to my friends and coaches who helped push me.”

One of the Balers’ most consistent swimmers since he arrived as a freshman, Okubo has been reliable and durable, regularly producing top-three finishes in dual meets. He does it quietly without seeking the limelight, choosing instead to work diligently and stay in the shadows.

Okubo considers himself a distance swimmer rather than a sprinter, a key reason why he does well in the 500 free.

“My mental mindset in the 500 free is telling myself that I can do it,” he said. “That I’ll do well and just have to hold on.”

In repeating as the champion in the 100 back, Bonnet showed why he could be joining the upper-echelon in the event by next season. Bonnet attributes his long arms, reach and strong hip rotations as the key reasons why he’s strong in the event. Bonnet felt motivated to have a great meet, taking third overall in the 200 free.

The 200 free is not one of Bonnet’s best events; however, he swam the race knowing he could still place high and score points for the team. Not only did Bonnet nail a CCS qualifying mark in the 100 back, he was able to use his relay split leading off the 400 free relay race to qualify for the CCS Championships in 100 free individual event. For obvious reasons, Bonnet couldn’t have asked for a better meet. The 100 back—his signature event—turned out to be a dream race.

“It really didn’t feel hard fo

Ryan Okubo won the 200 individual medley in the MBL Gabilan Division Championships.

r me,” said Bonnet, who went under a minute in the event for the second time in his career. “It was like the perfect race. When I touched the wall, I didn’t expect a super fast time. But when I looked at the clock and realized I qualified for CCS, it was a great feeling. I was pretty confident I could win it again, and my start felt better from what I remember in the race last year (when Bonnet won by 3/100ths of a second).”

Bonnet had a two-hour gap between his first event, the 200 free, and 200 free relay. Relaxed and focused, Bonnet spent 30 minutes of his long break taking a nap in the stands. Who knows what Bonnet was dreaming of, but in the end reality was better than a dream on this day.

Elizabeth Fleming won the 50 freestyle race in the MBL Gabilan Division Championships.

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