Benefield: SRJC swimmers have strong showing at Big 8 championships

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Don’t get her wrong, Taylor Sargis is certainly happy and grateful to be the two-time Big 8 Female Swimmer of the Year. But when talking about the Big 8 Championship meet at American River College in Sacramento this weekend, her voice didn’t rise and fall talking about her three championship wins. It rose and fell talking about her teammates’ results, especially sophomore Mary Lane’s come-from-behind win in the 200-yard butterfly in the final day of competition.

“She pushed off the wall, I don’t know what it was, I think it was her turn, in my brain I was like, ‘She’s going, the wheels are turning,’ ” she said. “She was just moving so fast. It gave me chills, watching her swim.”

Lane came into the race as the top seed, but was a full body length behind the leader with 25 yards to swim. And race leader, Sierra freshman Rory Nuuhiwa, was on a mission, swimming miles ahead of her seed-time pace.

“Mary’s was probably the most exciting race of the meet,” coach Jill McCormick said. “The end of the 200 fly is probably the worst feeling on the planet. Your legs are shutting down, your arms are shutting down, you are completely hypoxic. You are just in the red.”

For Lane to make up so much distance in so little time?

“It just brought the house down,” McCormick said. “It was just a gutsy, warrior type of swim.”

Lane clocked in at 2:12.64, just ahead of Nuuhiwa’s 2:13.11. To put into perspective the kind of inspired swim Nuuhiwa was having before Lane nipped her at the line — Nuuhiwa’s qualifying time was 2:20.13.

“I have never seen her want something so bad as in that race,” Sargis said of her teammate.

Those were first-place points the Bear Cubs needed. In the end, the women finished in second in the Big 8, with 630 points to Sierra College’s 769. Delta finished third with 609. The men’s team, made up of just three returning sophomores and 14 freshmen, finished fourth behind a three-event sweep by freshman Mark Sidorenko.

“It’s hard to go in as top seed in three things and come out with wins in three things,” McCormick said. “So many people are going big in our conference. Our conference is the fastest in the state.”

Few swimmers went as big last weekend as either Sargis or Sidorenko. Both swimmers came in as top seeds in three events and both swimmers won all three. Sargis’s performance earned her her second-straight Big 8 Female Swimmer of the Year honor.

“It doesn’t happen very often,” McCormick said of the back-to-back honor.

Sargis beat her own SRJC and Big 8 meet record of 2:22.59 in the 200-yard breast stroke in a dominating performance. She clocked in at 2:20.59. It was the only meet record broken all weekend.

Second place in that race, Diablo Valley College sophomore Jamie Wanket, finished in 2:26.14.

“That’s big. That’s crushing it,” McCormick said.

“She is technically the best breast stroker I think I have ever had,” she said. “She is super efficient. Your inefficiencies start to come out with fatigue. Her stroke is so efficient, she is not wasting energy.”

Well, she wasn’t wasting energy in the water. She might have wasted some on the pool deck, cheering on her teammates.

“Everyone was working so hard this past month and a half, everyone did so well at the meet,” she said. “I was so wrapped up in rooting for everyone else I would forget that I was swimming too.”

Her competitors didn’t forget Sargis was competing. The sophomore not only dominated the 200-yard breast stroke, she also came home as Big 8 champ in the 200-yard individual medley and the 100-yard breast stroke. Her 1:04.51 in the 100-yard breast stroke broke her own school record.

She was joined by newly minted Big 8 champs Reilly Clarkson in the 400-yard individual medley, Hailey Vance in the 100-yard backstroke, and Lane’s winning performance in the 200-yard butterfly.

On the men’s side, three-time champ Sidorenko earned “Outstanding Male Performance of the Meet” for his dominating win in the 100-yard freestyle which he won in 45.85. He also won the 50-yard freestyle and the 100-yard butterfly.

Sidorenko, who hails from Kazakhstan, said he can do better.

“All of the races I did, it was not my best time,” he said. “I know I can be better and faster.”

He’ll soon have the chance. The state meet is May 3-5 at DeAnza College in Cupertino.

McCormick expects her swimmers to shine at DeAnza with the help of this extended rest period in front of them.

“None of our event winners were fully rested for Big 8,” she said. “Reilly and Mary and Hailey and Taylor and Mariah (Wong), they were all a little rough around the edges. They were not fully rested and I think they swam very well.”

Sidorenko, too, expects some gains over the next two weeks and some even faster times at state. He’s also hoping to spend time less worried about fitness and more tinkering with mechanics.

“My speed is fine,” he said. “My turns and my start is not so fast.”

And for all of focus on the state meet, forgive Sidorenko for occasionally looking ahead. To next season, in fact. The freshman is already looking for a wee redo at the 2019 Big 8 Conference Championship.

“I’m proud. I’m happy we are fourth in the Big 8,” he said. “But next year we will be number one. For the next year we will take the Big 8. We will take it.”

But first thing’s first.

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

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