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Sometimes it doesn’t matter whether you win or lose, just that you finish.

The Santa Rosa Junior College women’s 400-yard freestyle relay team had one job Saturday: Do not D.Q. (that’s disqualify in swim parlance).

When sophomore and fourth leg, Christine Lewis, touched the wall at the East Los Angeles College swimming pool Saturday afternoon, last out of all competitors, wild celebration ensued.

“When they announced ‘In lane two, in eighth place from Santa Rosa … ’ the girls went crazy,” Bear Cubs swim and dive coach Jill McCormick said. “If anyone wasn’t paying attention to the team scores, they would not understand why we were so happy with eighth place.”

Because eighth place meant victory. Not victory in the moral victory sense, but victory in the very real, we are the champions kind of way. Because make no mistake, the Santa Rosa Junior College Bear Cubs are state champions.

The California Community College Athletics Association women’s state swim and dive meet in Los Angeles this weekend was decided in the final race — the 400-yard freestyle relay. The message from McCormick to her team was simple: Be careful. Compete, swim hard, but do not jump early from the blocks and get disqualified. A DQ in this race would cost the Bear Cubs the championship.

The concern was not just hypothetical. The Bear Cubs were disqualified from a crucial relay at last year’s state meet.

“It seems ridiculously simple and obvious but at the end of the meet when they had been pushing every finish, there was so much riding on it — it’s hard to turn that off without getting twitchy,” McCormick said. “It’s harder than it sounds.”

But the Bear Cubs swam safe and they swam smart and with that eighth-place finish, they won.

With the finish, the Bear Cubs finished with a three-day total of 424.5 points. Second-place Orange Coast College? 399.5.

The Bear Cubs are the new state champs.

“It’s a big sense of relief,” said Lewis, a sophomore. “We have been working so hard for it.”

Just because the Bear Cubs sealed their win with a smartly executed, conservative relay, doesn’t mean they didn’t kill it in the pool for three full days.

Lewis, a graduate of El Molino High School, is the new state champion and school record holder in the 100-yard breaststroke. She also owns the school record in the 200-yard breaststroke in which she finished fourth in the state, as well as grabbing fourth in the 500-yard freestyle.

Pretty incredible for an athlete who told me just last week that’s she’s not a real swimmer because for years her focus was synchronized swimming, not racing.

So incredible was the finale of her SRJC career that Lewis said she asked herself, post-race, “Is this real life?”

“It’s slowly setting in and every time I think about it I smile,” she said. “There is more to come.”

Between the Big 8 Championships and the state meet, these Bear Cubs broke six school records.

Sophomore Miranda Howell set the school record in the 200 backstroke. Howell came home with second-place finishes in both the 100- and 200-yard backstroke and a remarkable third in the 100-yard butterfly.

Howell and the butterfly have a history and Howell still holds a bit of a grudge.

She tore her deltoid muscle as a prep swimmer and it was the butterfly that always aggravated it, always a hurt a little more than the other strokes, so for years she avoided it. But this season, the Bear Cubs, who were remarkably deep, needed the veteran to take on that stroke.

“Trying to do the fly always freaked me out,” she said.

The sophomore, ranked 10th going into the state meet in the 100-yard race, finished an astounding third, pulling in a bunch more points for the Bear Cubs.

Sophomore Megan Warren (El Molino High) also pulled in a load of points for the Bear Cubs in the ultra-competitive freestyle races. Warren took sixth in the 100-yard freestyle, and seventh in both the 200- and 500-yard freestyle.

“She is somebody who really took care of business,” McCormick said. “For her to be consistent in the deepest events in the meet and hang on to her top eight finishes was absolutely clutch for us.”

Also clutch were the Bear Cubs divers, Logan Williams (Analy High), Kristin Schmidt (Analy) and Savannah Moen (Montgomery High).

“They scored over 80 points between the three of them and we won the entire meet by 25 points,” McCormick said.

Williams is the new state champ in the 1-meter board.

Before they left for the long drive to Los Angeles last week, McCormick told her team to imagine the banner that hangs above the pool. The one that lists all the years the Bear Cubs have been the best in California: 1979, 1983, 2004, 2005, 2008 and 2009.

Then she said, picture what it would look like with “2015” on it.

“That’s what she told us to imagine and that’s what we did,” Howell said.

They did more than imagine it.

You can reach Staff Columnist Kerry Benefield at 526-8671 or kerry.benefield@pressdemocrat.com, on Twitter @benefield and on Instagram at kerry.benefield.

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