Swim team drowns in titles and broken records

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Lancer’s swim broke records, ranked in state titles, and created a rip tide for their freshmen swimmers to follow to sophomore glory.

The season finished strong despite a perfect storm that left only seven swimmers on the women’s team, too short for a relay this year and keeping them from points they needed to be contenders for the state championship. Maintaining enough numbers to win the championship continues to be an issue for both teams as winning is more mathematics than only the team’s best effort, men’s swim included.  

For the fourth straight year, the women’s South Coast Championship co-swimmers of the year Jocelyn “J-Jo” Jo and Melissa Cienega reigned from PCC, who were more than deserving after their break-out performances in their first semester at Pasadena.

“At the beginning of the season, I wasn’t really into distance at all. I was usually interested in only 200 and below,” Cienega said about her decision to take on the mile event for state this year. “He really believes in what we can do and that makes it [possible], you can feel the support and that’s what I really liked about it,” Cienega said.

J-Jo broke her own time between conference and CCCAA (California Community College Athletic Association) championship competition by three whole seconds and picked up an eighth place medal in the 200 individual medley after scoring a heat victory in the morning preliminary round. J-Jo swam a 2:13.94 in the finals.

Returning sophomore Anais Hacobian left before the end of the semester finished due to a car accident at the start of the season. Hacobian was in her last qualifying semester and won’t be returning as a competitor next Fall.

“Another swimmer on the women’s team had elbow surgery in January, so that made our numbers low,” Stoddard said.

At the State Championship, it was the third time a PCC team placed in the state top 10 under Lancers’ head coach Terry Stoddard. Pasadena placed eighth at the 2008 and 2011 state meets. However, the team had some time to make up between the morning heats and the evening state competition.

Stoddard wasn’t worried, he knew his team had more to show.

“I think she’s going to surprise us tonight,” Stoddard said in a pre-Championship interview. “Who would imagine her to win? But Melissa is a fighter, she’s a competitor, and if she’s in the race I’m going [to] be cheering for Melissa.”

That morning, Cienega needed to make a miracle happen in the water with a full 8 seconds behind her contender Sierra Cox from Orange Coast College who was last year’s CCCAA champion. The odds didn’t look good for Cienega.

“When I went into state …I wasn’t really putting pressure on myself because I was so far behind the people seated in front of me. I’m here to have fun and to put in work. It’s possible for me to do it if I trust in the work I did to get me there,” Cienega said.

Cienega won the state title for women’s 500 freestyle in the championship on Thursday making her event the most talked about at the championship. For 450 yards, Cox had the lead. But in the last 50, Cienega managed pull ahead and steal the gold.

That night she also broke a record set by previous Lancer swimmer Shannon Cheung, making the new 1,650-yard record 5:03.83.

Cienega’s teammate on the men’s side, Samuel Jo, was also in awe of her comeback performance and had success at the championship as well with two state title wins, the first to do so since PCC hall of fame swimmer Ernie Lee in 1992.

Though the men’s team had enough for a relay, they still fell short of enough members to mathematically contend for the state championship against other colleges with higher participation. But skills reigned statistics this season, as this smaller team showed human ability and willpower under coach Stoddard’s direction.

It wasn’t just the breaking of decades’ old records by Jo and fellow freshmen Sydney Odent that brought back memories of the legendary swim team of the 1970’s but the camaraderie and team spirit, according to Stoddard who had graduated from college during the exciting championship years.

First year Odent, an international student from France, was a top performer with his second place win in the 1,650 freestyle at a gaping seven-second lead over the bronze. The path to gold should be clear for Odent next year as experienced state title winner Drew Sipple finished his final season at Santa Rosa.

“You don’t win the fight in the first round, there aren’t knockouts in our sport. So there wasn’t a knockout in swim this morning. No one is swimming bad, we’re swimming better than we did at conference,” Stoddard said.

The program has a lot of momentum to launch with into next season, though according to Sam Jo, the team will continue to practice during the summer individually in order to maintain their endurance they built throughout this past season.

A highlight of the season besides the state recognition was the team’s win against their rival Diablo Valley in San Francisco after traveling the grueling 5-South trek only to lose seven consecutive times. This year they won by only two points, a cause for celebration at Pier 39 and bringing the team closer together.

“We had couple of outings together, we went to the beach and that was a lot of fun,” Jo said.

The women’s team has never won the CCCAA championship and the men’s team hasn’t seen the hall of champions since 1978. With the growth that was made through Stoddard’s coaching and the connection between the swimmers, PCC can continue to see success and possibly the state title return to the hall of fame.

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