Several years ago, the New Mexico Activities Association carved out a swimming and diving championship for the smaller-school classifications.
But those small schools will still struggle in sending many of their athletes to the Feb. 21-22 championship meet at Albuquerque Academy because they still must meet the same minimum qualifying standards that big-school swimmers face.
The swimmers can still qualify for state by finishing first or second in an event at district meets, but district meets still include larger-classification schools. Track and field, for instance, has different qualifying standards for the different classifications.
And sometimes small schools find it difficult just finding lanes for their athletes as there are a limited number of available pools.
Such is the case in Santa Fe as the local schools all congregate at the Genoveva Chavez Community Center and must schedule not only around each other, but also around club swimmers.
“I’m a little embarrassed that that is the best that the NMAA can do for small schools,” said St. Michael’s swim coach Elaine Pacheco.
The Horsemen do have a standout swimmer in sophomore Ethan Manske, who can hold his own with any level of swimmer and broke the school record in the grueling 500-meter freestyle earlier this year in a time of 4 minutes, 59.43 seconds.
He’s also already qualified in the 100 backstroke and Pacheco wouldn’t be a bit surprised if he also qualifies in 100 butterfly, 200 individual medley and maybe the 200 free. Athletes can compete in only two individual events and two relays at the state meet, or one individual event and three relays.
If St. Mike’s can squeeze three other boys into the state meet – and Pacheco is confident it can – it will be enough to man a relay team and that just might be enough to make them a contender to knock off Santa Fe Prep, which has won the boys small-school title three years in a row.
“We graduated three seniors and they were a large part of our success,” Blue Griffins coach Dave Caldwell said. “Not that we’re not going to have a good season this year, we just have a much younger team.”
Prep’s boys will be looking at eighth-grader Henry Lyons, who Caldwell expects to qualify in the 200 medley and 500 free.
The Blue Griffins will have the advantage of a strong cast of divers – a rarity for any school, regardless of size – led by Michael Vimont.
On the girls side, Santa Fe Prep is looking strong to repeat their championship of a year ago, with three relays teams already qualified.
Sophia Gossum leads the individual efforts as a bona fide individual champion contender in the 50 (third) and 100 (second) frees after strong performances last year.
Chelsea Griscom in the breaststroke, Bess McAlpin in the backstroke and Yangchen Rotto in the 500 free are contenders to reach the second day of the state meet and will be the backbone of the relay teams.
“I think we have a fantastic chance of repeating,” Caldwell said. “The girls already broke the 400 (relay) freestyle record from last year and that’s with graduating two kids off the team. I’m really excited.”
Despite the success some small schools are able to achieve, the system doesn’t really work for schools whose athletes compete in multiple sports.
“I give credit to New Mexico swimmers,” Pacheco said. “The NMAA is supporting year-round swimmers and not athletes in other sports. The only way you’re going to make those times is if you spend a lot of time in the water outside of the high school season.”
For many on the Horsemen squad, however, that’s just not reality.
“My hat’s off to my swimmers on my team that do other activities,” Pacheco said. “They see those qualifying times for other swimmers. They are training like they are going to qualify. They’re doing it to swim for their best times, but I feel for them. About 90% of my swimmers do other activities.”