Balers swimming in the fast lane

Balers senior Elizabeth Fleming is the two-time defending league champion in the 50 free.

In the fall, Elizabeth Fleming had quite the workload. The San Benito High senior met swim teammate Jaya Waller for 5:30 a.m. workouts at San Benito Aquatics two to three times a week, had school during the morning and early afternoon and of course volleyball practice/matches in the late afternoon or evening. By the time Fleming got home—sometimes around 10:30 p.m. if the volleyball match went the full five sets—she’d barely have enough time to wind down before having to go to bed and repeat the process again.

The discipline and focus in the pool has paid off, as Fleming advanced to the Central Coast Section Meet last year and competed in the 50 freestyle, 100 freestyle, 200 medley relay and 400 freestyle relay. Fleming, along with sophomores Adam Bonnet and Jaya Waller, junior Maya Villegas and senior Mary Hagins, will lead a San Benito team that expects several of its individuals to compete for league championships and earn CCS Meet qualifying times.

Fleming, who has a personal-record (PR) of 25.07 seconds in the 50 free and 55.32 in the 100 free, plans on breaking 25 seconds in the 50 free and 55 seconds in the 100 free. The quartet of Fleming, Hagins, Waller and Villegas have a PR of 3 minutes, 40.05 seconds in the 400 free relay, and they can conceivably hit a sub-3:36 time by the end of the season.

It’s a formidable group, with Fleming swimming the freestyle portion of the event, Hagins the backstroke, Waller the breast stroke and Villegas the butterfly. All four swimmers have strong work ethics and know there are no shortcuts to success.

“If you’re not swimming, you’re getting slower,” Fleming said.

One of Fleming’s signature workouts involve doing 25-yard repeats at race pace speed, followed by a 15 second rest, before sprinting hard again. Fleming enjoyed and learned a lot from her CCS Meet experience a year ago.

“I’ll know how to pace myself better and what to expect the next time,” she said. “It’s just a bigger event so now I’ll know where to push myself and get better.”

Fleming had a range of emotions at the start of the season, knowing this was her final competitive season of swimming in her career.

“I’ve been swimming since the age of 4, so when it comes to CCS, that will be my last meet,” she said.

Bonnet comes into the season more motivated than ever. Last season, Bonnet tried to balance swimming and being a member of the Robotics Club, with a varying degree of success. The sophomore displayed flashes of brilliance in the pool; however, due to the many hours it took to be a part of the Robotics Club, Bonnet wasn’t able to maximize his abilities in the pool. That is not the case this season, as swimming—and academics of course—remain Bonnet’s top priorities this spring sports season.

“Last year I wasn’t all the way into the sport of swimming,” he said. “When I was swimming and doing robotics at the same time, I was exhausted most days. I didn’t know how to manage the workload of both so when I quit the Robotics Club for this year, it became so much easier to focus on swimming and give it my all there. Last year I wasn’t there for all of the practices, but this year my full attention is on swimming and pushing myself further and further so I can make an individual CCS event. This year I’m almost 100 percent sure I can do it.”

Last season, Bonnet had the swam the second fastest time in the 500 free and the third overall fastest time in the 200 free in the league finals. Bonnet said he’s a few seconds off to make the CCS cutoff time in the 500 free, which is the longest distance in high school swim competition. Bonnet wants to go sub 5 minutes in the event and go sub-1:50 in the 200 free.

Bonnet’s older brother, Xander, a 2018 San Benito High graduate and former water polo and swim standout, is currently swimming at West Valley College with the goal to play water polo at San Jose State. If Adam is ever lacking for any motivation on a given day, he can just think of trying to beat Xander’s times to get him going.

“We were both at (separate) swim meets the other day and texted each other asking each other’s times,” Adam said. “I’m using that as an area to push myself just to say I’m better than him. But he put up some pretty fast times so I’ll have to work long and hard to go faster than he did while he was here.”

Fellow sophomore standout Waller is expected to have another strong season, as she took second overall in the 100 breast stroke in 1:10.05 and second overall in the 200 free in 2:05.94 in last year’s league finals. Waller posted a CCS qualifying time last year in the 100 breast stroke and 100 free, nailing the later time by leading off the first leg of the 400 relay with a 55.69 split (the CCS cutoff was 56.09).

Hagins is also coming off a fine season in which she qualified for the CCS Meet in three events: the 200 individual medley, 100 backstroke and 100 butterfly. With the California Interscholastic Federation recently instituting a state championships for swimming, athletes like Hagins have something to shoot for beyond CCS.

“I’m hoping to make it to state in the 100 back,” she said. “I have a 57.5 (second mark) and the state cutoff mark is 56.8. In the 200 IM, I want to go under 2:10 and right now I have a personal-best of 2:10 flat.”

With swimming being her lone sport, Hagins could have a sole focus in the off-season working on getting faster with Peak Swimming in San Jose.

“I trained consistently for months when I wasn’t competing in high school,” she said. “I feel like I’ve improved a lot since last year, and I’ve been liking how the training has been going so far. Practices (at San Benito) have been going good; we’re switching up our style from last year so practices are more interesting and have more variety to them. We’ve been doing more race pace sets, and this is definitely the part of training I like most.”

All of the San Benito swimmers constantly work on their form with coach Jud Shutts, who is a technique-driven coach and has really helped the athletes perform at their peak level.

“For me since I’m a sprinter, I’m always working on a fast turnover with my arm speed, along with kicking and doing sprints everyday,” Fleming said.

“Jud has been doing some really good things, bringing in new aspects of the strokes that I don’t always look at,” Hagins said. “Sometimes it’s good to have a different coach who has a different and fresh perspective.”

In the off-season, Hagins worked on her kick—“I tend not to do that very much,” she said—which should lead to faster times. The girls 200 medley and 400 relay teams lost just one time in league competition last season, in the league finals to Christopher High in the 200 medley relay. Once again, the Balers will be in the fast lane to success.

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