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Sometimes, second can feel as good as first.

Once in a while, Jill McCormick can buy that. Case in point: She felt like her Santa Rosa Junior College women’s swim and dive team entered the California Community College Athletic Association state meet with the roster to mix it up among the top five programs in the state. But a closer look at the cold, hard numbers showed that while her women had the talent to contend, no one in the state was likely to topple the mighty behemoth that is Orange Coast College.

“Orange Coast was going to win by a long shot,” she said of the powerhouse southern California school.

The Pirates were simply too deep, too fast and too experienced at this state meet for anyone else to come close. So the Bear Cubs buckled down and got after every point they could grab in a tight race for dibs on places two through six at the three-day meet this month at DeAnza College in Cupertino.

And get after it they did. Orange Coast finished with 522 points to Santa Rosa’s 393 and Diablo Valley College’s 353.

“Anytime you beat everybody but Orange Coast, it feels like a win,” McCormick said.

The Bear Cubs’ second-place finish is the second second in as many meets. The Bear Cubs went into the state meet fresh off of finishing second to Sierra College at the Big 8 Championship April 19-21.

But that second-place finish, like the one to Orange Coast, calls for some context. Want a taste of how competitive the Big 8 Conference is? Four of the top five teams in the state came from the Big 8 Conference.

Still, none could topple the stacked Pirates squad at DeAnza. But the Bear Cubs came the closest.

“I have been doing this long enough that I knew we had a special group of women,” McCormick said.

And if by special, McCormick meant four returning All-Americans with state meet experience and a diver who had been to the big show as a freshman, then yes, she had a special group of women.

“This is a championship-caliber team,” she said of her women’s squad. “In a different year at a different time?

“It’s as hard to win the Big 8 Championship as it is state, so for us to get second at Big 8 and second at state, it was like, ‘Yeah, we’ll take it,’” McCormick said.

The young men’s team finished 11th in the state behind a breakout season and stellar final meet from freshman Mark Sidorenko.

But for this season and for this meet, it was the women’s turn to shine. And McCormick knew something was brewing with her squad on day one when they got a number of stellar performances, especially from their relay teams.

The Bear Cubs finished second to Orange Coast in the 200-yard freestyle relay, then did it again in the 400-yard medley relay. Then, on day two, they finished second to the Pirates in the 200-yard medley relay.

“Day one was our weakest day as far as point-scoring potential goes, so when they did better than they all thought” the meet was on, she said. “We were not supposed to do that. It was really exciting.”

“The ball was rolling so hard by the time we got to day two that they just wanted a piece of it,” she said.

McCormick said her team, top to bottom, swam out of their minds.

“Our girls knocked it out of the park,” she said. “I will tell you other teams had some athletes that were faster than us, but I truly believe that in the top five, nobody outswam Santa Rosa Junior College.”

Leading the charge was the two-time Big 8 Swimmer of the Year, sophomore Taylor Sargis.

Sargis, who prepped at Santa Rosa High, added to her freshman year All-American efforts and pulled down seven more All-American honors, three in individual events and four in relays.

McCormick said Sargis’s effort winning the 100-yard breast stroke in 1:04.19, breaking her own school record in the process, was a feat to behold. And it pointed to Sargis being a racer at heart.

“Taylor winning the 100 breast? She wasn’t the top seed going into the meet, but she was the one who put a hand on the wall first,” McCormick said. “She put the final race together better than anyone else and she won.”

Sargis also finished second in the 200-yard medley and the 200-yard breaststroke, breaking yet another of her school records.

Freshman Reilly Clarkson, another Santa Rosa High grad, was in on the school-record action, too, taking down teammate Mary Lane’s record in the 400-yard medley to take third place at state. Clarkson finished in 4:40.21, just ahead of Lane’s 4:40.41 that she posted last season.

Clarkson earned All-American honors in three individual events and one relay. In addition to finishing third in the 400-yard medley, she took eighth in the 200-yard backstroke and 12th in the 1,650-yard freestyle.

If Lane fretted over seeing her record fall, and she probably didn’t, she needn’t have. She had already set yet another school record, this time in the 200-yard butterfly earlier this season.

The Menlo-Atherton grad earned All-American honors in three individual events and one relay. She finished fourth in the 400-yard medley, fourth in the 200-yard butterfly and seventh in the 200-yard medley.

In addition to Sargis, Clarkson and Lane, sophomore Hailey Vance, who graduated from Redwood Academy in Ukiah, earned All-American honors in three individual events and four relays after finishing fourth in the 100-yard backstroke, fifth in the 200-yard backstroke and fifth in the 500-yard freestyle.

Sophomore Annika Erickson, who prepped at New Tech High in Napa, is an All-American in two individual events and four relays; freshman Mariah Wong, an El Molino grad, earned honors in one individual event and four relays; freshman Mary Khattar, who prepped at Montgomery, is All-American in two individual events and two relays, and freshman Alexandra Langley, who graduated from Summerfield Waldorf, earned honors in two individual events.

Diver Lizzie Walls, who prepped at Maria Carrillo, finished 11th in both the 1- and 3-meter boards.

On the men’s side, Sidorenko, who is originally from Kazakhstan, earned All-American honors in three individual events and four relays. Sidorenko finished sixth in the 100-yard freestyle, seventh in the 100-yard butterfly and ninth in the 50-yard freestyle.

Three swimmers — Jack McCormick, Julian Schiano-Dicola and Chadwick Leung — all freshmen, earned All-American honors for their role on the Bear Cubs’ relay squads.

And for all of the hardware that the women’s side brought home, McCormick said she is plenty excited about the potential of her men’s team next season. They were dominated by freshmen this season and McCormick said she expects a good recruiting class to join in the fall.

Bringing home the silver was a coup this year, but if things shake out next season as they could, contending for second might not be good enough.

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 707-526-8671 or kerry.benefield@pressdemocrat.com.

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