What started as a group of about 30 swimmers in the fall of 2010 is now a 150-member club solid enough to host a 38-team meet at West High’s Pinkie Phillips Aquatics Center on Saturday, March 23, and Sunday, March 24.
Coaches Clay Basepayne and Pat Windschitl said that Penguin Plunge, the first USA Swimming competition in Tracy, is turning out to be a popular regional event, with teams from Humboldt to Monterey counties and as far east as Reno coming to Tracy.
Basepayne expects about 620 swimmers to compete in 3,000 individual races in two days.
“It’s our first big adventure into the next level of our swim team,” Basepayne said.
Swimmer Keiana Fountaine, 13, said the Ellis team is excited to make Tracy a destination.
“To see this team grow so big and finally be hosting our own meet, it’s like, Wow! We’re already here,” she said.
Meet director Michele Loomis said that USA Swimming, a nationwide organization that sanctions groups like Ellis Aquatics all the way up to the USA Olympic team, is selective about who hosts a meet.
“It takes a while for USA Swimming to acknowledge you as a club,” Loomis said. “We haven’t even been acknowledged for quite a year yet … It’s a very big honor to be awarded one.”
Coaches also want to show other teams that Ellis Aquatics produces swimmers capable of advancing to the upper levels of USA Swimming. The team sent 20 swimmers to Pacific Swimming’s Junior Olympics in Santa Clara on March 15 and 16.
“Most importantly they’re getting more competitive,” Basepayne said. “That’s what we wanted most.”
Eight of those Junior Olympics swimmers set new times this past weekend that shattered team records and qualified them for the next level, USA Swimming’s Far Western Championships in Morgan Hill from April 4 to 7.
The Far Western time standard is fast enough that it would make the 11- and 12-year-old swimmers competitive with top high school varsity swimmers.
Girls who qualified include Caitlin O’Neill, 11, and Madesyn Ronquillo, 12, each of them in three events; and Brianna Carino, 12, in two events.
Also advancing in three events each are 12-year-old boys Vincent Tejidor, Riley Gilmore and Jesse Russell-Cheung.
Among 17-year-old boys, Daniel Russell-Cheung and Ian Cox each qualified in one event.
Loomis said that swimmers didn’t need to establish qualifying times for this weekend’s Tracy meet, but that a successful event will go a long way to convince USA Swimming that Tracy should be the destination for future, higher-level events, making it a big moment for the local swim scene.
“Depending on how this goes,” she said, “we’ll know if we can bid on meets and know if we can do it or not.”
• Contact Bob Brownne at 835-3030 or firstname.lastname@example.org.