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If competitors at the California Community College Athletic Association state swim and dive meet at East Los Angeles College over the weekend did their homework, they knew the Santa Rosa Junior College distance specialist Drew Sipple was coming. After all, Sipple was ranked first in both the 500- and 1,650-yard freestyle, as well as fifth in the 200-yard butterfly.

But R.J. Williams? Santa Rosa coaches knew the sophomore out of Terra Linda High was fast, but he might have been a bit of a secret to competitors from other corners of California.

He’s a secret no more.

Williams, who came into the three-day meet ranked seventh in the 50-yard free, third in the 100-yard butterfly and 17th in the 100-yard free, walloped the competition in both the 50-yard free and the 100-yard butterfly and swam away with the Outstanding Performance of the Meet award for his heroics in the fly.

And for good measure, Williams broke two school records (including a 5-year-old record set by his brother Trent in 2012).

“I feel like our team does very well under pressure,” Williams said.

“I just wanted to go really fast and all my coaches helped me with that more than I can say,” he said.

He definitely went really fast.

“Every time he hit the water, he did a lifetime best. By a lot,” Bear Cubs coach Jill McCormick said.

In all, five school records fell as the Bear Cubs raced to a third-place finish on the women’s side and a fifth-place finish for the men.

McCormick said Williams’ performance was so dominant in the 50-yard free that when Williams hit the turn at the halfway mark, he was pushing off the wall when other racers still had a stroke to go before touching.

“He put together his best start, his best breakout, his best finish,” she said. “He got every single piece of it right and he got a 20.37.

“People were talking about that race all weekend and when I say people, I mean not us,” she said.

And that wasn’t even the race that earned Williams the Outstanding Performance of the Meet award. He earned those kudos for his win in the 100-yard butterfly.

“He won the 100 fly … by almost two seconds,” McCormick said.

And meanwhile, in the longer races, Sipple did what Sipple does — he swam away with both long-distance titles and pitched in on what seems like a million others.

“I don’t understand how a human being can do what he did,” Williams said of his teammate. “He put on quite a performance at this meet and I’d be hard-pressed to find somebody who was not super impressed.”

Sipple, who prepped in Park City, Utah, came into the meet as the distance guy to beat, but nobody in California was up to the challenge.

He is the new CCCAA state champion in both the 500- and 1,650-yard freestyle.

That was his day job; what he was expected to deliver. For fun, he tossed in a third-place finish in the 200-yard butterfly, a fifth-place finish with the 400-yard free relay team, fourth place with the 400-yard medley relay team, fifth with the 200-yard medley relay and fourth in the 800-yard freestyle relay.

The sheer volume of his workload would have likely earned him Santa Rosa’s first-ever male CCCAA Swimmer of the Year award. But he didn’t just swim in a million races — he won them, lapping people along the way.

And he set the tone for the team from the first night of competition, McCormick said.

“When Drew wins that 500 free, it was like the balls started rolling,” she said.

Then Williams won the 50-yard free and the Bear Cubs were off.

“The whole team, it was like a springboard: ‘Boom! Here we go,’” McCormick said.

Freshman Taylor Sargis, from Santa Rosa High, came up big on the women’s side, finishing second in the 100-yard breaststroke and breaking the school record. She also tallied third-place finishes in the 200-yard individual medley and the 200-yard breaststroke.

Hailey Vance, a freshman who prepped at Redwood Academy, finished second in both the 100- and 200-yard backstroke. Freshman Mary Lane, from Menlo Atherton High, finished third in the 400-yard individual medley, and sophomore Jasmine Alger from Healdsburg High, finished third in the 200-yard butterfly. The women finished third overall in the state.

But it was the men, with their tiny roster and big performances, who stole the show.

The men qualified just four individual swimmers along with four relay squads.

“That’s ridiculous,” McCormick said of what her men’s team was able to do against squads with much deeper rosters. “That’s a ridiculous amount of point production. We were going up against teams with 15 guys.”

“Our team, specifically, does pretty well in high-pressure situations and I feel like maybe a little bit better than other teams,” Williams said. “Maybe the pressure just got to other people.”

McCormick, who describes sprint races as a contest in which one bad breath or “one funky flip turn” separates first and fifth, had a pretty zen racer on her hands in Williams. He seemed immune to pressure and had no explanation for his spectacular showing over the weekend, other than perhaps the stars were aligned just so.

“I knew that I was either going to do something spectacular or muff it up,” Williams said. “Either way, I was fine. I was just happy to be there with all my friends and all the guys.

“I don’t really swim much for times,” he said. “Yeah, I am a competitive guy and I like to win; winning is a great perk. But I swim for experiences.”

Williams just happened to marry the two in a big way this weekend — big wins and great experiences.

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 707-526-8671 and at Kerry.benefield @pressemocrat.com, on Twitter @benefield and Instagram @kerry.benefield. Podcasting on iTunes and SoundCloud “Overtime with Kerry Benefield.”

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