Sophomore Connie Peng prepares for the Spring 2015 season. (Osborne/Courier)
Sophomore Connie Peng prepares for the Spring 2015 season. (Osborne/Courier)

As January comes to a close and the 2015 swimming and diving season just around the corner, the Lancers have their sights set on top finishes.

Led by coach Terry Stoddard, both the men’s and women’s teams are a promising mix of new blood and returning talent. Returners on the women’s team include Tiffany Wong, Courtney Fukushima and Connie Peng, who competed at the state championships last season. Stoddard named Peng as his top returning swimmer, who placed second at state.

“The returning athletes have trained very well in the offseason,” Stoddard said. “[They] also started off faster in their first two weeks of training for this season.”

Among the freshmen on the women’s team are Ariahn Givens and Tulasi Hilder-Manahan, who were part of Stoddard’s water polo team in the fall. While at Venice High School, Givens placed first in the 50-yard freestyle CIF Championship before making the All-South Coast Conference First Team for water polo at PCC.

“[Givens] was our sprinter, and she won 72 percent of the sprints, so we’re excited to have her enter our sprint relays and medley relays,” Stoddard said.

Additionally, Givens is part of USA Swimming and hopes she can drop enough time to make section cuts as well as improve in other events besides freestyle.

With a certain confidence in her voice, Givens attributes practices – both in and out of water – as well as her water polo experience as great preparations going into the season.

“I feel like [water polo] helps because it makes you stronger in your swim-team swim because you’re constantly fighting against people swimming against you or alongside you,” she said. “You’re being pulled back by a force which is allowing you to pull harder through the water and I feel especially for me as a sprinter, that allows me to have a faster turnover when I swim.”

“Because I was … sprinting for the ball, that also allows me to be better at my sprints because I’m constantly swimming back and forth trying to catch up to people,” she added. “[I’m] basically doing short races which allows me to carry that over to my sprint events.”

On the other hand, Hilder-Manahan stressed the importance of academics and the balancing act between keeping grades, as well as their muscles, in top shape. Currently enrolled in 21 units, Hilder-Manahan had to sign a waiver in order to take 17 core units and 4 units dedicated to swim.

“That’s the kind of attitude that a lot of swimmers have, we’re very academically driven,” she said. “It’s hard, but it keeps me busy and that’s what I love. I feel great! This is the happiest I’ve been in a really long time!”

Excelling at freestyle, Hilder-Manahan wants to lower her times in general in addition to improving her butterfly stroke.

Overall, she feels the team will do exceptionally well due to the team’s sheer speed in the water.

“They are so fast … I can’t even believe it! Some of the girls on the team look like machines when they are in the water,” she said with enthusiasm. “They swim so beautifully … I honestly think that we’re going to do very well this season.”

Returning for the men’s team are freestyle state qualifier Mohammad Esmaeilian, breaststroker and sprinter Ethan Nava, Brendan Lee on butterfly stroke, as well as Victor Torres and Ryan Caceras on freestyle. Fresh faces include Rene Gonzales, who competes in butterfly stroke, and CIF medalist Samuel Sanchez.

Both teams practice together every day from 6 to 8 a.m. and squeeze in an additional 12:15 to 3:45 practice every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Practicing, and even competing against each other, builds camaraderie, pushes the teams to train harder, and creates a more competitive group, according to Stoddard.

In terms of coaching philosophy, Stoddard emphasizes goal setting and making hard work standard. This month’s goals were to learn the ins and outs of everyone’s strengths and weaknesses. In February, Stoddard wants to further improve the teams’ weaknesses, building a solid foundation for the rest of the season.

The Lancers eagerly await their first meet, the South Coast Conference Pentathlon and Relays, held at East Los Angeles College on Feb. 13.

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