After a season of swim meets and dropping time, everything for the El Campo Ricebirds swimming team comes down to district Friday in Victoria.
After graduating five girls last year, an eighth district championship could be out of reach for El Campo. Coming into the season with their numbers down, they needed a lot of things to break right for them and starting the year they were dealt a big blow with sophomore Kendall Beal suffering a season-ending injury.
“It’s not like football where we can win the game,” El Campo Coach Richard Nava said. “We only have x number of swimmers and they can only score x number of points. We had seven years of district titles and we had to hit a bump in the road somewhere. Hopefully, they’ll bounce back and the numbers will go up next year and we’ll be back on top.”
While the girls run could be coming to an end, the boys this season might have enough to unseat Victoria West. Only once in the programs history have the boys won a district title, which was back in 2016 when they beat Victoria West by one point.
“The boys look good, the numbers look good,” Nava said. “I tell the kids, this is the time. You strike while the iron is hot and you can’t wait and say well (we’ve got) next year. This might be it for the boys.”
“I think it’s really an option (for us this year), this is the most boys we’ve had since I’ve been here. The numbers help a lot,” junior Gage Garner said.
As a junior, last year Conner Williams was the district’s male swimmer of the meet. This year Williams is a senior in his final year, but the Ricebirds have also been getting strong contributions all year long from Garner. Last week at the final non-district meet, Garner had times that would have been good enough to qualify him for the state meet.
Garner has seen himself transform from his first year swimming with El Campo to now his third in which he’s come into his own. While he hasn’t changed too much in the water, his stamina has gotten much better and in turn, has made him stronger.
“Coming into freshmen year after the red wave it was all 50s and 25 (yard races),” Garner said. “The 100 (yard) swim was a big deal but I’m finally starting to get to the point where I’m not exhausted when the race is over.”
Along with Garner’s growth, the boy’s team has gotten a boost this year in numbers from a lot of freshmen coming out to swim.
While the girls might not be able to dunk Nava after the district meet (a tradition saved for the district champion), if the boys come into the meet healthy and perform like they have all year the Ricebird coach still might find himself taking a plunge.