The activity in the steam-shrouded pool confirmed it: Year-round swimming has taken hold in Tracy.
Since October, the swimmers and water polo players of Ellis Aquatics have made the Kimball pool a hub of activity. The club is a mixture of established programs and a new effort to get more youngsters involved in water sports.
The USA Swimming-affiliated team, with about 40 members, originated as Manteca Aquatics, which practiced out of Sierra High until Clay Basepayne saw that more of his swimmers were commuting from Tracy.
Erin Mann and Matt Gumpert, coaches of the Kimball High swimming and water polo teams, head up the USA Water Polo team, with nearly 80 swimmers and squads ranging from 12-and-younger to 18-and-younger.
While Ellis Aquatics is a separate entity from any of the local high school teams, and also separate from the Tracy Tritons youth swim club, the coaches expect that all of the programs will be connected through the athletes they serve.
Mann saw last year that for all of the talent in the Tritons swim club, the local team was still finishing second in its league competition to Ripon Aquatics, a team that keeps swimmers in the pool year-round.
“In picking their coach’s brain, they said, give them something so they don’t lose eligibility to do swimming in the summer — do water polo throughout the winter,” Mann said. “They learn a lot of new skills that way, and it makes them really strong and builds more of a team environment than a swim team might.”
Mann added that he and Basepayne have always noticed a lack of local swim opportunities after the summer leagues finish, and would have to go to Stockton for morning and evening workouts. The opening of a new pool at Kimball High was their opportunity to make Tracy a destination for competitive swimmers.
“With the new pool, it’s much more affordable. We just decided to give it a go,” Mann said. “We have plenty of athletes to cover it — we’re covering our heating bill and doing the fundraising to get us there.”
Basepayne had been involved with USA Swimming as coach of Manteca Aquatics. With a chance to use the Kimball pool, though, he was ready to make the move to Tracy last year. The renamed Ellis Aquatics formally adopted Tracy as its hometown in October.
“The swim team itself is probably
about three or four years old,” Basepayne said. “We decided to move here because we felt like we were getting a stronger group here from Tracy.
“We’re just looking to establish a good organization that promotes healthy kids, competitive swimming and an overall good time.
“We’ve been working with (Tracy Unified School District) to get some pool time, and we’re taking full advantage of it. We plan to be here for a long time.”
Basepayne also makes the move this spring as the new coach of the West High swim team, which begins practices Feb. 7. He takes over for retired longtime coach Pinkie Phillips and brings his experience as co-head coach of the Sierra High swim team, which has three straight Valley Oak League championships in the girls varsity division.
Coaches also expect to tie into the high schools by training the players who eventually will be on their teams.
Mann and Gumpert saw in their couple of years as Kimball’s water polo coaches that freshmen who take an interest in high school water polo typically have little to no experience with the sport. Now, they’re getting kids as young as 10 years old interested. Two teams competed in Livermore over the most recent weekend, and another competition is planned in Livermore at the end of the month.
“Kids who are around this age are really just learning the sport,” Gumpert said. “We’re feeding all three high schools eventually with the youth water polo.”
Mann added that those who are already in high school water polo will have a chance to stay sharp in the offseason.
“Most of our boys could probably play on 16U teams — they’re that age — but most of them will be seniors next year, so I want them to have the experience of playing with the big boys.”
The USA team practices from 4 to 6 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday and from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday. The teams work out in the pool from 6 to 8 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday and 4 to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday.