Sierra College swim captures State Championship

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En route to a number of school, individual and program records, the Sierra College men’s swim team etched out the Wolverines first-ever state title at last weekend’s 2016 California Community College Swimming and Diving State Championships at East Los Angeles College.

Thanks to personal bests from local swimmers, the Wolverines ended 3-time defending state champion Golden West’s bid for a four-peat and earned numerous podium finishes in the process. 

“It’s been a long time coming,” Sierra’s coach Chris Briebart said. “We’ve had a lot of great teams come through here, but to have it all come together with this group is something really special. It’s a culmination of a decade of work.”

After capturing the program’s first Big 8 Conference title in late April, the team sent 14 swimmers to state, where they posted some of their fastest times in the pool.

“We set every school record except for two, one individual event and one relay,” Briebart explained. “So we’re basically going to have to get a new record board.”

Sierra also earned its first two state champions in school history, with the first title coming in the 400 medley relay thanks to a couple of local grads. 

Oakmont High alum Alex Shibata and Granite Bay grad Andrew Murch helped Sierra post a first-place finish in the 400 medley relay with a 3:20.09. Trailing Orange Coast College’s relay foursome for most of the race, Sierra shot to the front on the strength of Murch’s butterfly leg, then held the lead through the free thanks to a strong performance from Rio Americano grad Lucas Hastie.

Hastie, who’s older brother Luke swam at Sierra and is now coaching at Del Oro, was key to Sierra’s success. In fact, before the season began, he told Briebart without hesitation that the team was going to win a state title in 2016.

“I knew we had the personnel to do something special,” Briebart recalled. “Our returners, who went to State last year, they verbalized the goal was to win a title. And I held them to that standard periodically when I felt like we were deviating from the plan. And they responded.”

Sierra College’s Slava Illin added the team’s second win in the 1650 free (1-mile) with a thrilling finish, coming from behind over the last 25 to clock a 15:55.34 to get the win by 1.1 seconds over Drew Sipple of Santa Rosa. Illin also made the podium in the 500 free (second) and 200 free (third).

After swimming for Oakmont High two years ago, Shibata found himself on the podium as he earned a pair of silver medals in the 100 breast (56.51) and 200 breast (2:02.93). In all, the Wolverines won two events over the three-day meet, but put a man on nearly every podium. 

Sierra’s Jason Williams took third in the 200 fly with 1:53.78, just behind Golden West’s Nathan Torres (1:52.59). Diver Austin Foote was runner-up in both 1-meter and 3-meter diving events, and the Wolverines added another pair of silvers in the 800 free relay and the 400 free relay, the latter of which sealed Sierra’s championship. 

“Golden West kind of stubbed their toe early in the meet with a false start and that opened the door for us,” Briebart explained. “But they were swimming fast, all the way down to that final relay and you see your team’s true colors when they’re tested. It was a full team effort and it speaks to how tough and mentally strong these guys are.”

Briebart, who’s been with the Wolverines for 15 years, has led several teams to the State Championships, finishing in the top five, but never sealing the deal. But this year, Sierra beat out Golden West College by 35.5 points, 543.5 to 508, to claim top billing.

The Wolverines also sent 11 female swimmers to the championships, but fell short to the eventual champs from Orange Coast College, which set a record for most points scored at the state meet. 

“It was a lot of fun the entire weekend,” Sierra’s women’s coach Scott Decker said. “It’s not the boys versus the girls, we’re one whole team and aquatics department and it was great to watch them accomplish great things. They all showed terrific support for each other.”

The Wolverines return a eight of their state qualifiers next season and hope to make a return trip to the championships.

“I’ve been here 21 years, so I know how hard it is to win a state championship,” Decker admitted. “We’ve been second seven times, and I love our kids for busting their butt to get us here seven times, but to win it is a phenomenal feat.”