Gilroy High junior Zoey Zeller swims the 200 yard individual medley race in the Central Coast Section Championships at the Santa Clara International Swim Center on May 7. Zeller won the race in a PR of 1:59.48. Photo by Thien-An Truong.

Zoey Zeller got out of the pool, body aching, the pain visible on her face. 

The Gilroy High junior had just won the 200 yard individual medley race in the Central Coast Section Championships in a personal-record (PR) of 1 minute, 59.48 seconds, and her supreme effort took a toll. 

“It was pretty rough, it hurt a lot,” Zeller said at the Santa Clara International Swim Center on May 7, site of the CCS Championships. “It was good.”

Was it ever. Approximately two hours after winning the 200 IM, Zeller was even more impressive—if possible—in winning the 100 breaststroke in a PR of 1:01.74. She edged Sacred Heart Prep junior Audrey J-Cheng by 11/100ths of a second in one of the closest races of the Championships. 

J-Cheng entered the race with the top seed time, but Gilroy High swim coach Doug Pickford provided uncanny analysis before the race laying out what Zeller needed to do to beat J-Cheng. 

“Zoey has swam against Audrey a number of times so she knows exactly what she has to do to win it,” Pickford said. “Audrey is a fantastic, spectacular breaststroker. She’s a sprinter type of breaststroker. I think Zoey’s sweet spot event is the 200 breaststroke, which isn’t a high school event. 

“You can look at the time comparison from the heats (of the preliminary round) and Audrey was 8, 9/10ths of a second faster at the 50 (yard halfway mark). But Zoey caught up 4/10ths of a second in the last 50, so the issue for Zoey is going to be that she’s got to stay connected to her. She’s got to stay pretty close to her at the 50 and try to reel her in and beat her at the end.” 

That’s exactly how the race unfolded as Zeller trailed slightly at the 50 before reeling Cheng in with around 25 yards to go. Zeller is believed to be the first Gilroy High swimmer to win an individual event in the CCS Championships, let alone two. 

Now she can further burnish her legacy with a great showing—meaning top 3 finishes in her events—at the CIF State Championships May 12-14 at the Clovis Olympic Swim Complex. Zeller enters State with the No. 2 seed time in both the 200 IM and 100 breaststroke.

Freshman phenom Teagan O’Dell of Santa Margarita High has the top seed time in the 200 IM, a ridiculously fast 1:55.46, and Emily Lundgren of Eastlake High has the best time in the 100 breaststroke at 1:01.16. 

While O’Dell is the prohibitive favorite to win the IM race, it’s not beyond the scope of imagination to think Zeller could hit another huge PR to score an upset win over Lundgren in the breaststroke. Whatever happens, Zeller’s CCS performance was one for the ages. 

Winning the medley race displayed her versatility, endurance and ability to swim all the strokes. And capturing the breaststroke in the manner in which she did showcased her resolve and determination. She wasn’t going to be denied. 

“Her stamina is so spectacular,” Pickford said. “She takes the 200 IM and treats it like a sprint. She gives you everything she humanly can. I asked her before that race what are your split targets, what is your thought process, etc. And she kind of laid it out to me very, very thoughtfully, and she hit virtually every one of them. 

“I mean, it’s as good as it gets. It doesn’t get any better than that. There is nothing left in that tank and every time she thinks there is nothing left, she goes and figures how to dig just a little deeper. She’s a special kid. For me, I just go along for the ride. Other coaches have got her to where she is today, and she is spectacular.”

Zoey Zeller swims a preliminary heat of the 100 yard breaststroke on day one of the CCS Championships. The Gilroy High junior won the event the next day in a PR of 1:01.74 to qualify for the state meet in that event and the 200 IM.
Zoey Zeller prepares to swim the 200 IM in the A final of the CCS Championships. Photo by Thien-An Truong.

Sports editor Emanuel Lee can be reached at [email protected]

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Emanuel Lee primarily covers sports for Weeklys/NewSVMedia's Los Gatan publication. Twenty years of journalism experience and recipient of several writing awards from the California News Publishers Association. Emanuel has run eight marathons with a PR of 3:13.40, counts himself as a true disciple of Jesus Christ and loves spending time with his wife and their two lovely daughters, Evangeline and Eliza.


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