Cougars swim in the fast lane

Chris and Nicole Critzer have been outstanding swimmers for Christopher High. Photo by Robert Eliason.

The Christopher High girls swim team entered the week with a couple of remarkable streaks on the line. The Cougars have won 64 consecutive dual meets and seven straight league championships, making for a dynasty. Jeff Ross has been the coach to oversee both of those impressive accomplishments, and he’s hoping the team can finish the 2019 season on top once again. 

“It’s been quite a run for the girls swim team,” said Ross, who is a member of the Christopher High Athletic Hall of Fame. “It’s been a dream coaching some of the teams I’ve had here.”

Christopher has two meets remaining, including one against a Salinas team that Ross said will determine whether the Cougars win another league championship. Barring an upset, Christopher seems primed to run the table again. Against a quality San Benito squad on March 27, the Cougars swam away with a 107-73 win (the boys prevailed, 88-75). Sophomore Kylie Nguyen won the 100 yard breast stroke, took second in the 200 individual medley and was part of the Cougars’ winning 200 free relay team that included Nicole Critzer, Kate Craig, and Haley Hartman.

Critzer, a junior, took first in the 100 butterfly and second in the 100 backstroke, freshman Cassidy Foster won the 500 freestyle and Hartman had a pair of second-place finishes in the 50- and 100 free events. Top highlights in the boys meet included junior Chris Critzer winning the 50- and 200 free, senior Nolan Ciccone winning the 100 free along with being a part of the winning 200 free relay team, freshman Emiliano Grieco taking first in the 100 breast stroke, and junior Alexander Swenson taking the victory in the 100 fly.

High school swimmers who want to improve must grind away for hundreds of hours from a young age. If the swimmer doesn’t have a true love for the sport, he or she will burn out or their results will plateau. Hartman doesn’t fall in that category, as she has a passion for the sport and continually seeks to better herself. Even though Hartman has swam some of her fastest times this season, she has an insatiable appetite to improve. 

“I’m definitely not getting the times I would like to get, but I’m still an improved swimmer from last year,” she said. “I’ve definitely improved my technique and gotten a lot better in my main event, the 50 free. I can still improve my time now because I’ve corrected my stroke.”

With the help of coaches and trainers, Hartman recently corrected her stroke, which she believes gave her shoulder and back problems for part of the season. On March 15, Hartman nailed a personal-record (PR) in the 50 free, establishing a time of 26.4 seconds. The relay team of Hartman, Craig, Critzer and Nguyen nailed a Central Coast Section qualifying time early in the season, making for a great  moment. 

“Last year we missed it by a second, so making it this year is really exciting for us,” Hartman said. “We were really determined to get the time we needed this year.”

Hartman expressed confidence she can lower her times and hit the CCS cutoff marks in her events. Unlike last year, Hartman has a felt a particular urgency to make the most of her time left in high school.

“As I’m getting older, the mindset is to get faster in a hurry.” she said. “I need to keep improving and I really want to get it done. I’ve had a love for the water my whole life. (Growing up) I’d be at my grandma’s house and in the kiddie’s pool, and I remember watching swimming on TV and telling my mom that it was really cool. They put me on the Gilroy Gators, and I did that for a while until I started swimming for Splash Aquatics in Morgan Hill.”

The Christopher High girls swim team dynasty shows no signs of fading anytime soon. There are four freshmen on the roster, underscoring the team’s young talent. To wit: out of the 17 swimmers on the roster, only three are seniors. One of those seniors, Natalie Rusterholtz, happens to be one of the best divers in the league. 

“She will probably take first in the league,” Ross said.  “Natalie works on her diving a lot and is just awesome.”

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