LAHAINA - Lahaina Swim Club continued its surge to the forefront of youth swimming with a breakout performance at the Hawaii Short Course State Championships held Dec. 17-19 at Kona Aquatic Center on the Big Island.
Guided by coach Tom Popdan and a veteran board of directors made up of Paula Pope, Candace Faust, Jennifer Wiseman, Eden McAfee and Erica Gaastra, LSC sent its largest contingent of competitors ever to the Kona event, which highlights the winter season for youth swimming in Hawaii.
The Lahaina club came through in a big way by placing fourth among the powerhouse numbers brought to the meet by Kamehameha, Punahou, and Hawaii Swim Clubs.
LSC sent 28 swimmers to the event and, according to Coach Tom, the youths ages 8-18 came through with the strongest performance ever by the team.
"These kids push each other really hard, and they really work to get better and improve their times. We put the pressure on for this meet, and the kids came out like diamonds. Most of them swam their best times, and now we're sending the most kids to national meets than we ever have. They all work hard academically as well, so the younger kids really look up to the older ones."
As a group, Popdan noted that 90 percent of the LSC swimmers posted their best times, and seven athletes set Hawaii state records.
"We set our goals at swimming at best times for 80 percent of the kids, so to get 90 percent and set seven state records is really something."
For the upcoming younger group, the eight-year-old division included Jaden Yip, Rebecca Geng, Isabela Omura, Oshun Freetas, Laakea Hudson and Kenall Beam; while Sydney Wagner, Julia Bianca, Alicia Wintermeyer, Lara Claydon, Eva Olson, Carson Sargent and Jared Gaastra competed in the 11-12 age bracket.
The age 13-14 competitors were Paris Sargent, Teak McAfee, Sarah Armstrong, Geneva Leon, Eva McCrea and Destin Altman; and the 15-16 swimmers included Jesselee Chapman, Sabrina Altman and Nalu Laurel. The standout 17-18 LSC athletes included Renny Richmond, Joshua Gaastra, Ridge Altman and Alex Armstrong.
"That 17- to 18-year-old age group really stood out in this meet," said Coach Tom last week. "Renny continues to break records and is the top swimmer to come out of Maui... he broke three Hawaii records in this meet. Ridge won two events and broke a record, Joshua scored in eight events and Alex swam to his best times. They also won all four relays for this age group.
"In the 13-14 division, Paris won four gold medals and along with Teak, Sarah and Geneva, won all four relays. Paris qualified for sectionals and the national grand prix events on the Mainland. And for the younger girls, Sydney, Julia and Alicia all won medals and swam to their best times.
"This was a definite surge by our team in this meet," said Popdan, who is going into his 15th year as the LSC coach.
"It bodes well for the future of the high school team in the future, and several of the kids are getting attention from Division I colleges. The youth swimmers are gaining in numbers and learning solid skill levels as well, with Jen (Wiseman) and Erica (Gaastra) starting them out at age four and five these days. And this facility is always clean and ready to go for us. It's the best in Maui... we never miss a beat and the kids stay healthy. Our thanks goes out to the crew here."