Swimming and diving once again are making a splash at Las Positas College, which is welcome news for a program that's marking a storied first decade of success.
Practice is underway in preparation for a dual meet opener set for April 16 against Chabot. The Hawks aim to add to their considerable success story, which reached a peak in 2019 when they captured men's and women's conference championships for a fifth straight season. That season was capped by Esteban Perez Del Rio becoming the first Las Positas men's swimmer to win a state title. With a shortened season and a smaller-than-usual team for 2021, there's more opportunity for extensive instruction and for swimmers to stand out.
Drake Southern and Kendalyn Cox, both of Pleasanton, are making strides and have genuine next-level potential.
Southern, a Foothill graduate, is a backstroke and freestyle ace. Growth in both the physical and academic sense and a keen eye on goals have him on the upward trajectory.
"He's really learned how to grow and learned how to train," Las Positas head coach Jason Craighead said. "He's looking at possibly breaking some of our team records. We have some very respectable team records, so if someone has the potential to break one, that's something."
Southern is looking to vault to the four-year level much like Perez Del Rio, who won the men's 100 freestyle race in the California Community College Athletic Association State Championships with a school-record time of 45.01 seconds. Perez Del Rio is now at University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV), while Southern has his sights set on UC Santa Barbara, or possibly UNLV or UC Santa Cruz, his coach said.
Cox, a freestyler from Amador Valley, has flourished thanks to a more consistent training background.
"Now, she has been able to figure it out in terms of training, gaining more experience, and what her goals are for swimming," Craighead said.
Cox plans to pursue a kinesiology major at Cal State East Bay, while continuing to ply her swimming skills.
"She has a really great attitude and is a good hard worker," Craighead said. "She is now doing everything she can to excel, and Drake is doing the kinds of same things. If there's an extra workout, they will be there."
The Hawks are striving to make the best of their partial season, which will be without any invitationals or conference or state championships. Several programs throughout the state have opted out for the shortened season. This year, instead of a typical sizable Hawks dual squad of 40 or more, it's in the 20-range combined for men and women. There's the chance for more in-depth coaching.
"It's a reminder to ourselves as coaches what opportunity we do have," Craighead said. "We're really fortunate to be able to do what we're doing. It's nice to have a different focus and purpose."
The Hawks showed potential for more greatness in their brief spring 2020 campaign, which lasted about a quarter of a season before sports were shut down statewide due to the COVID-19 pandemic, crushing the hopes of adding to their collection of Coast Conference championships.
Craighead arrived at Las Positas in 2009 and founded the program, which he has led since its inception. He's thrilled to have the same coaching staff since Las Positas began full competition in 2011. It's a large reason why the Hawks have collected 11 conference championships in its nine full seasons.
Additionally, two alums achieved the ultimate in community college swimming, with Perez Del Rio's state title in 2019 and McKenna Stevulak winning a women's title in 2013. Others have a long lineage in the sport, extending beyond their years of dedication to Las Positas. Diving coach Monte Young has been involved in area diving since the 1980s, and assistant coach Loren Pearson has been dedicated to masters and youth programs in Pleasanton for many years.
"It's nothing short of excellence and commitment," Craighead said. “We enjoy the community connection, since that is what community college is all about."
With the status of sports mired in uncertainty for over a year, Craighead points to a moment in July when enough restrictions were lifted to engage in activity.
Craighead is also head coach for men's water polo, which faces more stringent restrictions since it’s a contact sport. Even fewer community colleges have opted to compete, leaving Las Positas with a trio of matches with West Valley. The first of those is set for Friday. It gives players a good chance at development, with those returning next school year eyeing a full slate of competition in the sport's normal fall season.
If all systems are a go, that season will start in August, not too far off on the horizon.
"West Valley is a powerhouse in the state, among the top three or four teams," Craighead said. "They get some good international players. Our guys have the right attitude and want the experience against a strong opponent."