Water girl | TheUnion.com

Water girl

Larry Gruver smiles as he watches Caitlin Lee glide through the water.

The longtime head coach of the Grass Valley-based Penguins swim team just can’t help it.

“She’s only 12 years old, but you can see what a beautiful swimmer she is,” he said. “She’s good at every stroke, and a lot of that comes from good technique.”

In a sport like swimming – where the difference between first and second place could be as little as a 100th of a second – it’s that rock-solid technique that has catapulted Lee in among the best 11- and 12-year-old female swimmers in the West.

She proved just that with a career day at the Sierra Nevada Junior Olympic meet in Woodland last weekend.

Lee turned in gaggle of personal records and qualified for her first trip to the Western Zone Championships in Los Angeles Aug. 6-10.

“She had a tremendous meet. They have these things called Western Zone qualifying times, which are really fast, and if you make one, you automatically make the zone team, and Caitlin made two of them,” Gruver said.

The Western Zone championships invite swimmers from all over the region to the same pool and put it all on the line.

Among several personal bests, Lee smashed her previous top mark in the 400-meter freestyle by nine seconds with zone qualifying time of 4 minutes, 55.07 seconds.

She also qualified for the zone championships in the 100 butterfly with her best-ever time of 1:12.67.

“I made the finals in everything I entered. And in the finals, I got almost all best times, so it was a pretty successful (weekend),” Lee said.

Lee, who is one of three Penguins swimmers who earned berths into the zone championships – Samantha Stowe (15-16 age group) and J.D. Ellingson (17-18) were the other two – will probably compete in at least seven events in Los Angeles.

Although the field hasn’t been set yet, Gruver expects Lee will swim in the 50, 100, 200, and 400 freestyle, as well as the 50 and 100 butterfly and the 200 individual medley.

That’s quite a day’s work, but Gruver said Lee has all of the mental and physical tools to get the job done.

“The neat thing about Caitlin is that I think she’s the best swimmer on the team in terms of listening to the coaches. You can tell her a streamlining principle on one day and you’ll see her working on it on her own two days later,” Gruver said.

“With most kids, you tell them, and you tell them, and you remind them; and you hope it’ll sink in after a couple of weeks. With Caitlin, you just tell her once,” he said.

For Lee, it’s all about improvement.

“I want to get better, so I listen to what they’re saying. I learn more that way,” the Seven Hills Middle School eighth-grader said.

Thanks to two-a-day workouts, Lee has the brawn too go along with the brains.

“I’ve been doing double workouts since school got out. One in the morning, and one in the afternoon. And I think all of those extra workouts have really helped,” Lee said.

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