By Tadzio Garcia
East Los Angles College Swim Stadium has hosted the Swim and Dive State Championships throughout the decades, but rarely qualified for the event. 2014 is a new era in the ELAC aquatics program.
The Huskies advanced to state this year as Erik Matheson, three-year head coach is quietly building a dynasty. “We’ve come a long way in three years and I expect our (women) to do well in this state finals,” Matheson said.
“It will be our first state finals in (years). I am happy to get two people in. It will be nice for them to swim in front of a home crowd in the pool they train in every week.”
Alice Fei Zhang and Wenning Shen each qualified for the state finals in three events. The finals will be held in the Swim Stadium, May 1-3.
Zhang will compete in the maximum allowed three events (she qualified in five) while Shen traveled a more difficult road.
Shen qualified for three events based on her times from this season that Matheson submitted. She will compete in the championships without having been in the pool to train for more than a couple of weeks.
Shen qualified for the state finals in the 100 individual medley, as well as the 50 and 100 backstroke events even though she did not compete in the South Coast Conference tournament finals.
ELAC took seventh place at the SCC finals on April 17-19 at Mt. San Antonio College.
Mt. SAC once again won as the tournament champions and also the dual meet title with an 8-0 record for the second consecutive year.
ELAC tied for sixth place with Long Beach City College in dual meet head-to-head competition. ELAC entered the SCC tournament finals without its No. 2 swimmer, Shen, due to health reasons.
Shen, entering the SCC tournament, was the No. 1 seed in the 100-yard backstroke, No. 3 in the 50 back and No. 4 in the 100 breaststroke.
Zhang is a two-time SCC champion after winning the 50-yard butterfly and the 50 breaststroke with personal records in each event at Mt. SAC. She broke the 14-year SCC record in the butterfly event.
Zhang accomplished her first place wins after placing second and third in the preliminaries. “I just needed to qualify for the finals, not be as fast as I can in the qualifying (rounds),” Zhang said.
“In the finals I felt no pressure because I’ve been training since the summer with the ELAC water polo team. That team experience built my endurance.” Zhang also won second place in the 100-yard fly winning her third SCC medal.
All eight member of the swim team swam personal records in the tournament finals.
“They (ELAC) dropped a lot of times this season on one end of the spectrum. On the other end, the more experienced ones, Alice, Vero (Orantes), Irene (Young) and Wenning, made big points,” Matheson said.
All of the Huskies relays teams advanced to championship races at Mt. SAC. The ELAC 400-yard relay team of Veronica Orantes, Jokabeth Vicente, Irene Young and Zhang, placed seventh out of eight teams in this final race of the tournament.
They celebrated loudly after taking seventh place. “I like the team cheers, I like my teammates’ spirits,” Zhang said.
Young also won three medals after advancing to three championship finals. She finished in fifth place in the 100 back, sixth in the 50 back and seventh in the 100 individual medley. Like Zhang, Young also competed in four of ELAC’s five relay events.
Orantes won a seventh place medal in the 1650-yard freestyle with a lifetime best, 48.65 seconds faster than previously. She advanced to two consolation finals taking 12th place in the 200-yard freestyle, swimming a personal record, and 13th in the 500-yard freestyle.
Orantes finished with four other personal records –100 individual medley, the 100 free, the 50 back, and the 50 breaststroke. “I’m so proud that all of us dropped times in the (tournament) finals,” Orantes said.
Daisy Gomez won fifth place in the women’s 1-meter dive in her first year of diving. “My goal next year is to qualify for state. I will also compete in the 3-meter diving event to help our team score more points,” Gomez said.
Vicente swam in two consolation finals placing No. 10 in the 100 back and No. 16 in the 50 back. Both of her times were personal records.
Carmen Portillo advanced to the consolation finals in the 50 fly placing 15th. She ended her first season with the Huskies with a personal records in the 100 individual medley and the 50 back.
Monique Ortega took 14th place in the 50 fly consolation finals with her fastest time of the year in that event.
“We did it. We finished with good results after working so hard all year,” Ortega said.