Lady Cat swimmers exceed expectations

Clovis junior Alyssa Pyeatt is ready to break the water surface as she does the breaststroke during practice Wednesday at Play Inc. pool. (Staff photo: Eric Kluth)

By John Eisel: CNJ sports writer

When the swimming season started, Clovis swimming coach Vince DeMaio hoped the three relays and maybe an individual or two would qualify for the state meet.

Expectations change.

“Now our goals are to get into the finals, and I think we will. I think, potentially, we’ll get in all three relays and one individual,” first year coach DeMaio said of the Feb. 19 state meet in Albuquerque.

If sheer numbers decided who succeeds at a swimming meet, the Clovis Lady Wildcats would get crushed every time out.

With a roster of 15 swimmers, Clovis has to match up with squads with up to five times as many competitors.

At Saturday’s meet in Carlsbad, the Lady Wildcats finished third with 119 points, behind Alamogordo’s 175 and Hobbs’ 127. Those teams have anywhere from 30 to 50 swimmers. The New Mexico Military Institute was fourth with 36 points.

“That shows that we have a lot better quality of a team,” senior Mandi Benard said. “We stand on our own with only 12 to 13, and we’ve proven that all year.”

But for DeMaio, the team scores don’t matter too much.

He’s more worried about building up a program that is in its third year. Junior Alyssa Pyeatt and freshman Amber Espinoza are the first two Lady Cats to qualify for state in an individual race.

“You do swim as a team, but it’s still individual and it’s all about time,” DeMaio said. “It doesn’t matter if a team is seventh, second or first. It’s sort of immaterial. What matters to us is that you improve every day. It does take care of everything else.”

The Lady Wildcats set school records in all three relays. Junior Victoria Erdmann set a school record in the 500-yard freestyle with a time of 6:35.82, good for second. Pyeatt broke her Clovis record in the 100-yard breaststroke by a tenth of a second. Her time of 1:12.86 earned her third.

“It was awesome, it was amazing,” senior captain Kristin Curtis said. “We worked so hard to get here and now it’s paying off.”

Curtis was part of the 400-yard freestyle relay that set a record with a time of 4:24.51. She was also fourth in the 100-yard freestyle.

Accomplishing what they have would have been almost incomprehensible for the Lady Cats last year. Finishing last was just a given, and a lack of individual success drained much of the energy and camaraderie from the team.

Co-captain Benard said the team was a little skeptical when the coaches came in talking of first places and state tournament berths.

“They come in and say, ‘You can get first’ and you’re like, ‘OK, yeah right,’” she said.

But the swimmers put in the work and they quickly saw their times plummet.

“I think everyone has eaten their words,” Benard added. “Theses coaches have shown how great we can be and how great we are.”