Christopher High had its prom last Saturday starting at 6 p.m., meaning students attending the event start to get ready several hours before that. For the members of the girls swimming team, that posed a dilemma, as the Pacific Coast League Gabilan Division Championships were being held at Hartnell College in Salinas, with the all-day meet scheduled to end in the 4 to 5 p.m. time range.
For junior Nicole Critzer, that meant compromising on both ends to make sure she could experience and find fulfillment in both events. Critzer won the 100-yard butterfly and took second in the 100 back stroke, the third to last event contested. She made it a point to stay for as long as she could to earn points for a Christopher girls squad that continued its dynasty, winning the league championship by two points over Carmel, which came into the meet with a 35 point advantage over the Cougars due to having three divers place in the 1-meter diving competition.
But it wasn’t good enough as the Cougars flexed their muscles throughout the competition in winning their second consecutive Gabilan Division title and 10th straight league title overall.
“I didn’t want this to be the year we didn’t win the championship,” Critzer said. “I stayed (for the backstroke) because I wanted to get points for the team, and it was good to know those points helped contribute to the win. I understood why some people left, but it was worth it to stay.”
“When they announced Christopher was first, we screamed out loud because so much went into it,” Cougars sophomore Kylie Nguyen said. “We knew it was close and it was an overwhelming feeling to be a part of it.”
Critzer had to get her makeup done at the pool in preparation for the dance before leaving straight to Santana Row for the prom.
“It made it worth it not to get my hair done as I had only 30 minutes to get ready and put my dress on in the car on the ride over,” she said. “I understood why some people left because there were pictures to be taken at 4, but I wanted to stay as long at the pool as possible.”
Critzer found out the team had had edged Carmel to win the championship on the ride over to San Jose, a perfect ending to a terrific meet. She was involved in one of the closest races of the day, clocking a fast time of 59.12 seconds in the 100 yard butterfly to edge Gilroy High freshman sensation Payton Reeder, who finished in 59.42 seconds. Critzer also took second in the 100 back stroke in 1:03.16.
“My only thought (in the butterfly) was to win,” said Critzer, who repeated as division champion in the event. “I would say it’s more satisfying than last year because this year I had to work harder to get it. I knew Payton was a good swimmer and I would have to work hard for this one.”
Reeder had another close race in her other individual event, the 500 free, but this time she came out on top. Her finishing time of 5 minutes, 14.20 seconds beat Kirby’s Maggie Malloy by three seconds. That is considered close in the 500 free, which, at 20 laps, is the longest race at the high school level. Reeder got out in front and stayed in front, nailing her 50-yard lap times of 32.5 seconds.
“I’ve been practicing pacing a lot more in practice, and it paid off,” she said. “(Racing a 500 free) hurts a lot, but it feels good once you’re done and if you swim a good time. I am satisfied with my times for today.”
Reeder hit a PR in the butterfly and her 500 time hovered around her personal-best, so all in all she had another solid performance. She’s hit CCS qualifying times in the 500 free, butterfly and breast stroke events. Gilroy also received solid performances from Alexa Bennett, Hannah Stelzner and Ellie Pickford. Bennett took second in the 50 free in 25.99 seconds and third in the 100 breast stroke in 1:16.39; Stelzner finished third in both the 100 back in 1:05.76 ad 500 free in 5:27.99; and Pickford placed third in the 100 free in 58.18 seconds.
Gilroy’s 200 free relay team of Bennett, Pickford, Stelzner and Reeder won a thrilling race, clocking a 1:43.53 to edge Christopher’s foursome of Critzer, Kate Craig, Nguyen and Haley Hartman, who finished in 1:44.09. Nguyen had a strong meet, finishing first in the 100 breast stroke in 1:09.35 and second in the 200 IM in 2:16.92. In the breast stroke final, Nguyen was in Lane 4 and had a Pacific Grove and San Benito swimmer on her side lanes, with the three finishing within two seconds of each other.
“I knew I put in a lot of hard work, so it was a very good feeling to know it paid off,” she said. “I’m definitely nervous (before races), but I have to tell myself I’ve got this and this is what I’ve been working for and that I’ll always try my best.”
The individual medley tests a swimmer’s versatility, and Nguyen knew she had to stay competitive on the butterfly lap since it’s her weakest stroke. She did just that, while also posting fast lap times in the three other swimming strokes/disciplines. Nguyen has hit CCS qualifying times in the breast stroke and is a part of the 200 medley and 200 free relay teams.
The 200 IM relay team of Craig, Critzer, Hartman and Nguyen finished second in 1:58.29. On the boys side, the Cougars’ Chris Critzer was second in the 200 free in 1:47.26 and third in the 50 free in 22.73, while Emiliano Grieco took second in the 100 breast stroke in 1:09.78.
Nguyen comes from a swimming family, as she grew up swimming with her two sisters, Kaela and Kiara, the latter being an eighth grader who already is an accomplished swimmer, Cougars coach Jeff Ross said. Kylie maintains a 4.0 GPA and makes sure to keep things fresh in a sport that can easily lead to burnout.
“A big part of that (not burning out) is getting support from your coaches, family and friends,” she said. “Especially with your teammates, because you’re going through the same thing and it’s important to help each other out when times are tough.”