Balers junior Bridget Murphy is one of the team's top returners. Photo by Robert Eliason.

When San Benito High junior Bridget Murphy first saw the new on-campus aquatic facility last year, she was filled with jubilation.

“It was like a fairy tale,” she said. “It’s really nice to swim in that facility because the old one wasn’t up to standards.”

It wouldn’t be a stretch to say the San Benito High swim team has gone from one of the worst pools to the best on-campus high school aquatic facility in the Bay Area, if not the state. The Haybalers, who kicked off their season last week at home against Monterey High, truly have a home facility they can be proud of. For someone like Murphy, the new facility takes on added significance. That’s because Murphy’s older brother, Connor, and his friends used to go to board meetings to advocate for a new pool and stressed how important it was not just to the students but the community. 

“To see the early process before construction even began to the finished product now is really cool,” said Murphy, whose best events include the backstroke and butterfly events. “Seeing it come full circle from beginning to finally being reality is amazing.”

Another standout swimmer, Adam Bonnet, said the difference between the old pool to the new facility is like night and day—literally.

“The water feels different,” he said. “The old one, the water felt sticky. There are some pools that don’t feel right, but this one feels pretty good.”

It’s no coincidence that numbers are up for the swim team this season, and it’s expected they will continue to rise in the ensuing years. From a win-loss standpoint, the Balers look to be going through a rebuilding year, transitioning from a team hit hard by graduation to building a solid foundation for the future. Athletes like Bonnet, Murphy, Jaya Waller, Audrey Armstrong, Maddie Corrigan, Nicole Corrigan, and Kenneth Kliewer—just to mention some of the standouts—will be competing for race wins during the dual-meet season. 

Bonnet hit a Central Coast Section Meet qualifying time last year in the 500-yard freestyle, his signature event. Even though the junior didn’t make the cut to the second day of competition, the experience proved invaluable because several swimmers went in the 4 minute, 30-second range.

“I hadn’t seen people up close going 4:30s or below before, so I was surprised by it (the fast times),” said Bonnet, who finished in 4:55.12 in last year’s CCS Meet. “I was like, ‘Wow.’ The amount of people there and how fast everyone is was kind of hard to explain. I felt kind of small because there were so many people faster than me from San Jose or anywhere else pretty much, and to have that opportunity to race against them and be able to still set goals to beat their times (is a motivating factor).”

Bonnet has a goal to go sub 4:40 in the 500 free, 50.5 seconds in the 100 butterfly and 1:48 in the 200 free. All of the aforementioned marks are CCS qualifying times. Murphy wants to go sub-1:10 in the 100 fly and 100 back, and go under a minute in the 100 free. 

“My No. 1 goal is breaking a minute,” she said. “It’s a goal I’ve had for a long time. I’m really close right now; I’m just a second off.”

Bonnet and Murphy know they’ll have to refine some of the technical aspects of their strokes to further improve their times. Both swimmers said they would like to improve their turn off the wall. In the finals of the 200-yard freestyle race at last year’s Pacific Coast League Gabilan Division Championships, Bonnet said he could’ve finished in 48 seconds had his feet not slipped off the wall on the turn, thereby negating any push-off and costing him precious time. 

“I messed that up big time, so now I know what to do better and not make the same mistake,” Bonnet said. “My underwater swimming is super short, so I need to work on that.”

Said Murphy: “On the backstroke, I want to improve my stroke and get a little more rotation, which will slim down my times. The same thing with the butterfly; I want to go off the wall longer so I don’t kill my arms with additional strokes.” 

Balers co-coach Michelle Brunido, a former San Benito High standout who graduated from the school in 2015, is optimistic the team will score points from the divers they have on the roster. Armstrong, Kliewer, Troy Blevins, Erick Rayos and freshman Abigail Trevino are some of the divers who have potential to do well this season. 

“Abigail is outstanding and is averaging 5 ½ to six (points) on every dive,” Brunido said. “Kenneth and Audrey are also doing pretty well, and Audrey is good at twisting and turning.”

Bonnet was pretty motivated in the off-season, spending a ton of time in the pool competing for the Santa Clara Swim Club. Bonnet focused on conditioning in both a 25- and 50-meter pool—as per the club swim season—including freestyle events of varying distances. 

“(During the club season) I did pretty well and barely made some of the sectional cups,” he said. “I had surprised myself with what I did, but I knew with the amount of work I was putting in, I should’ve been going faster because I still need to work on some of the technical stuff. … After the summer, I saw where I was at, where I can go and what I need to do. So I’m pretty focused right now on targeting the things I need to work on and do to make CCS in as many events as I can.”

That process will be more enjoyable this season at the new facility, which features state of the art blocks, the latest timing system and touch pads (the latter won’t be put to use this season). In other words, the new facility has everything the old facility didn’t have and then some.

“The facility really built excitement for the season,” Bonnet said. “It’s really nice because the lanes are so open. Everything about the pool is nice.”

Said Murphy: “(At the old facility) one of the pools was red-flagged and the other one barely had six lanes in it. And the flag count always messed us up; it was awful when doing the backstroke. It’s nice to be able to freely do the strokes without fear of hitting my head on the wall during the backstroke.”

Murphy has come a long way from the time she started swimming at age 7. In her first 2 ½ weeks of swimming, Murphy clung to the lane line flotation objects even in a shallow pool where she could stand up and have her face above the water. 

“I was deftly afraid of the water and scared to swim,” she said. “Here I am nine years later, and I’ve stuck with it. I’m really glad I did.”

Even though swimming is an individual sport, Murphy said she could not have excelled had it not been for the support of her teammates and friends over the years. 

“I grew up with friends who pushed me to do better and improve on my times,” she said. “I wouldn’t have improved had it not been the support of my teammates.”

The Corrigan twins along with Murphy and Waller will form one or more relay teams, as they all have the speed and stroke versatility to make a strong four some. Murphy has already provided some leadership, as she instructed some of the younger girls on how to properly prepare for the start of the backstroke event in the season-opener against Monterey High on March 6. 

“Me, Jaya and some of the other top swimmers will try to be leaders and sort of be the role models for the rest of the team,” she said. 

Last year, Murphy was part of the medley relay team with Waller, Elizabeth Fleming (graduated) and Mary Hagins, who opted not to swim for her senior year. Murphy swam the butterfly portion of the relay, a stroke that she hated at first but now has come to love. 

“When I first swam the butterfly, I could barely lift my arms out of the water,” she said. “It was a struggle to get across the pool. But after years of doing it, I realized I got pretty good at it, and it’s fun to see my times improve in a stroke I had done horrible in before.”

Similar to Bonnet, Murphy had a tremendous experience at the CCS Meet last year, as the 200 medley relay team finished 25th out of 47 teams in 1:55.50.

“It was exciting going to CCS,” she said. “I had gone in my freshman year as an alternate with (teammate) Sydney Yamanishi, who I grew up with in the sport, so that was cool.”

In addition to the aforementioned names, the San Benito roster includes Sofia Alfaro, Caitlyn Arnett, Amanda Brantome, Alex Brunido, Chiarra Dang, Namikki Espinoza, Caroline Fleming, Emma Gonzalez, Stephanie Gonzalez, Halley Kobus, Samantha Logue, Julie Lomeli, Vanessa Lopez, Laine Lowi, Allie Lucas, Gavin Morden, Dallin Nordstrom, Itzayana Ocaranza, Adriana Omar, Cassandra Rayas, Meaghan Ricker, Sofia Ripp, Andrew Rivera, Jovita Rivera, Nina Rodriguez, Autumn Salinas, Sommer Salinas, Katie Sanchez, Elena Sheban, Taylor Smith, Morgan Stebbins, Cecily Stevenson, Haley Talavera, Naia Traveria, Shae Valenzuela, Sofia Villanueva, Taylor Villapando, and Jasmine Zamora. 

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Emanuel Lee primarily covers sports for Weeklys/NewSVMedia's Los Gatan publication. Twenty years of journalism experience and recipient of several writing awards from the California News Publishers Association. Emanuel has run eight marathons with a PR of 3:13.40, counts himself as a true disciple of Jesus Christ and loves spending time with his wife and their two lovely daughters, Evangeline and Eliza.


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