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Successful Teams Rely on the Relays

Many coaches and swimmers use the race format and competitive atmosphere to build unity.

March 18, 2004|Lauren Peterson | Times Staff Writer

There are plenty of creative and sophisticated ways to prepare for a new season and to foster team unity.

Some teams engage in players-only meetings or participate in motivational seminars, while others go on weekend retreats or engage in survival-skills adventures.

Swimmers compete in relays.

"It's how every season starts out, with just a bunch of relays," said Ken Dory, coach of the Irvine boys' team. "There's no individual glory and there's no individual failure."

The Vaqueros will be aiming for their seventh consecutive Southern Section Relays title on Saturday at Belmont Plaza in Long Beach. They have already won relay meets at Mission Viejo Capistrano Valley and Villa Park.

Irvine, one of the Southland's strongest proponents of relays, had also won seven consecutive girls' titles at the Southern Section Relays before Villa Park won last year.

"It's all about being a team," said Scott Hinman, the Irvine girls' coach. "The big problem with swimming is that most of the time it appears to be just an individual sport. Competing in relays makes it something more than that."

Southland teams have had several opportunities to compete in relays-only competitions, a rite of spring that many coaches and athletes welcome for their mix-and-match formats and fun.

"Anybody can come. It's pretty much a 'Come on down and let's see what you've got,' kind of thing," said John Montrella, a mathematics teacher and former boys' swim coach at Long Beach Millikan who organizes and runs the Southern Section Relays.

"It's a good morale-builder. The enthusiasm will blow your socks off and it's just a really positive competition. That's what's kept me in it all these years."

Most relay meets include nontraditional races, and some have other twists. One meet on Saturday at Westlake Village Westlake will feature co-ed competition, with schools using alternating boys' and girls' swimmers in the races.

"It's a bonding experience for the kids, more about having a good time together," said Chris Parrish, boys' coach at Goleta Dos Pueblos, which will compete at Westlake. "We don't necessarily focus on it, but as far as competing goes, nothing beats the relays."

The Southern Section Relays, which began Tuesday and continue today with the boys' preliminaries, is the largest such meet of the season with a combined 91 boys' and girls' teams. The boys' finals are Saturday. The girls' preliminaries are next week with the finals on March 27.

The meet is open to all schools. No qualifying times are required, and, unlike in the Southern Section team championships, no distinction is made between divisions.

Competition consists of seven relays, including the four-by-100 individual medley, the six-by-50 freestyle, the four-by-50 breaststroke and the four-by-50 backstroke. The more-familiar 400 free and 200 medley are the lone events that equate to races that occur in Southern Section team competition.

Swimmers may participate in a maximum of three relays. That rule, combined with the odd-ball events and distances, forces coaches to use a minimum of 10 to 12 swimmers rather than relying on the three or four who can participate in two individual events and two relays in traditional team competition and have their school win a title.

"How is that a team championship? That's a foursome," said Dory. "To win this meet, you have to spread people out, but not too thin. It forces you to strategize."

Not everyone likes the relays-only meets.

"I just don't care for the format, personally," said Anaheim Esperanza Coach Galen Diaz, whose boys' and girls' teams competed in the Sunset League Relays but will skip the Southern Section Relays. "What's the point of having the kids compete in an event if they never swim that?"

Schedule and time conflicts, either with upcoming dual or junior-national events, also are deterrents.

"I think they'd like to have our team come, but we're trying to do other things," said Jeff Boss, coach of Mission Viejo, the defending Division I boys' champion.

Villa Park, which has participated in the meet since 1976, still finds reasons to compete.

"We're definitely in a competitive frame of mind, and it's always good to see what it's like," said Villa Park assistant John Kulisich.

"It's just a fun meet and very competitive too."

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