Larry Gruver can’t hold back the kudos when it comes to the Grass Valley-based Penguin swim team.
And why should he?
The program’s long-time skipper has had a front row seat as team members from every age group have come away with boatloads of accolades season after season.
This year is no different.
The Penguins will be represented by a total of nine area athletes at a trio of high-profile meets over the next week-or-so.
Penguin alum and Nevada Union head swim coach Seth Derrick (See: Ex-NU great plunges into national spotlight, Page B1) will compete in the U.S. Senior National Championships at Stanford University Saturday.
The Penguins will also send a record five to the U.S. Junior Nationals, also at Stanford starting early next week.
Nevada Union grads Samantha Stowe and Mason Edwards, Bear River graduate Kellyn Loehr, NU junior Whitney Stephenson and Jill Olson of Marysville will compete with the top 18-and-under swimmers the nation has to offer.
Add to that the four other Penguins who earned trips to next week’s Western Zone Championships in Redding: Nevada Unions’ underclassmen Drew Harris, Jon-Huffman Eddy, Ryan Stefani and Katelyn Lee (See: In the Zone, page B1) into the mix and it’s easy to see why Gruver has nothing but praise for this year’s group.
‘This team has gotten to a higher level than in past years,” he said. “This is the biggest team we’ve ever sent to the Junior Nationals. We’ve got a swimmer in the Senior nationals along with four others who made it to the Western Zone Championships.”
“For a small team of 60-70, that’s quite an accomplishment,” he added.
To earn a spot in the Junior Nationals, swimmers must have attained a minimum qualifying time in either short or long course formats at a sanctioned event within the past year.
Short course, which is measured in increments of one yard, or 36 inches, is the format used in high school meets.
Long course is measured in meters, or 39.37 inches. It is the format
used at the higher levels.
As an added bonus, any swimmer who qualified for the Junior Nationals has the option to compete in a maximum of two other events.
Here’s a breakdown of the area’s Junior National qualifiers:
– Samantha Stowe ” The 2003 Sac-Joaquin Section 200 freestyle champion enters the four-day event as the Penguins’ top-seeded competitor.
Stowe, who made the cut for a team-high three events, posted the fifth-best long course qualifying time in the 200 freestyle with a mark of 2 minutes, 40 seconds during the Junior Olympics at the University of California-Davis.
“I feel pretty good. We’re all very different, but I think (coach Gruver’s) done our taper really well. I feel like I’m going to swim fast,” Stowe said. “I’ve had the times to get here for a while, I’m pretty happy they decided to bring it back.”
Colorado’s Christine Jennings (2:04.13) and Florida’s Chelsea Nauta (2:04.60) ” come into the contest ranked No.1 and No. 2 respectively.
Stowe’s the first to admit the sight of prospective competitors’ times used to do more bad than good.
“When I was younger I’d look at the program and think, ‘I can’t beat this girl’, but the older I got, I got my confidence up and started beating the girls in the lanes next to me,” Stowe added. “I’m pretty confident (in my abilities) now. I know I’ve just got to focus on my race.”
The 2004 graduate of Nevada Union also earned berths into the 200 individual medley and 100 freestyle.
Her time of 2:08.68 in the 200 IM was good enough for 14th among all long-course times. Stowe’s 59.29 in the 100 freestyle comes in at 22nd best among long-course times.
BONUS EVENTS: 100 butterfly, 200 butterfly.
– Kellyn Loehr ” The 2003 Sac-Joaquin Section 100 breaststroke champion and 2004 Bear River grad will compete in both the 50- and 100 breaststroke.
Since the shorter version of the race is not a regular event in either short or long course, anyone who makes the cut for either the 100 meter or yard version automatically earns a berth in the 50.
Loehr clocked the sixth-best short-course time in the 100 breaststroke at 1:06.44.
Gillian Ochs of Orinda turned in the top short-course time at 1:05.21.
BONUS EVENT: 50 freestyle
– Whitney Stephenson ” The Nevada Union junior earned a ticket to the both the 50-and 100 backstroke in the same way as teammate Loehr.
Stephenson, who won both the 100 backstroke and 200 freestyle championships in the frosh/soph division last May, comes into the race with the 21st fastest short-course time at 59.02.
BONUS EVENTS: 200 backstroke, 100 freestyle.
– Mason Edwards ” The 2004 Nevada Union graduate earned a ticket to the 50-meter freestyle competition with the 14th-best short-course time at 21.54 seconds.
B.J. Kolsrud of Cedar Rapids, Iowa turned in the fastest short-course time at 20.90.
Edwards, the 2004 Sac-Joaquin Section’s runner up in the 50 freestyle, will swim for the University of California-Santa Barbara this year.
BONUS EVENTS: 100 freestyle; 200 freestyle.
Stowe, Loehr, Stephenson and Olson will also compete in the 200 freestyle and 200 medley relays.
In the freestyle event, the Penquins enter as the 23rd seed with a time
of 28.15. Tampa Bay Community Aquatic team (25.97) is seeded No.1.
In the medley event, the Penguins come in at No. 33 with a 4:34.72. The top seed is the Germantown Academy Aquatic Club ‘A’ (4:22.24).
“The credit goes to the kids. They all believed in me and were willing to work,” Gruver said. “This is a program the area can really be proud of.”
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