With just two regular-season meets remaining on their 2015-16 schedule, the Artesia High School swim teams are continuing to overcome the odds.
This year’s swimmers are young and inexperienced. And with an extremely limited amount of time to train each day at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, gaining that experience is next to impossible.
But still they give their all.
Going into Tuesday’s meet in Carlsbad, the teams are swimming their best times of the year and are hoping for continued improvement prior to the Artesia Invitational – which will also be held in Carlsbad Saturday.
“It’s hard for these kids,” head coach Shelley Ebarb said Saturday. “We have an hour-and-a-half to be in the FLETC pool, and by the time we get things set up and get in the water, we’re swimming for maybe an hour and 15, hour and 20 minutes.
“That’s not much for training.”
Again this season, however, the Bulldogs in particular have been able to compete against athletes who hold every advantage over them except natural talent and sheer will.
Junior Jonathan Darnell, who has been shattering records for the ‘Dogs since his days at Park Junior High, is again leading the pack. Darnell has qualified for the State Swim Meet in five events individually, most of them multiple times: the 100 butterfly, backstroke and freestyle, the 50 freestyle, and the 200 individual medley.
He broke the backstroke record at the Nov. 13-14 Pecos Invitational in Pecos, Texas, with a time of 54.25 and blew away two more records Jan. 9 at another large meet in Andrews, Texas. Darnell bested the previous time of 2:05.18 in the preliminaries on Day One of the meet with a 2:03.94, then broke his own record in the finals with a 2:01.87. He also took down the backstroke mark of 56.38 with a 53.50 preliminary time.
“It’s really amazing, because he hardly gets to swim at all,” Ebarb said. “He’s competing with these kids that work out two to three times more than he does, and he’s right there with them.
“Most of his swimming, I think, is mental. He is so mentally tough. He knows what he’s capable of doing, and he does it.”
Darnell currently holds the top seed in the state in the backstroke and the No. 3 time in the 200 IM.
He’s also a member of the 200 medley relay team, which picked up a state qualification Dec. 18-19 in Hobbs. Darnell, Michael Hope, Val Guevara and Chaise Wolf earned that honor with a second-place time of 2:08.04.
“We also have two eighth-grade boys (Carson Anderson and Wolf) who are doing great, one of whom is on that medley, and we’re almost qualified in the 200 free relay with those two eighth-graders, as well,” said Ebarb. “So the boys are coming along nicely. We’re hoping to get that 200 free qualified Tuesday in Carlsbad, and then maybe Saturday at our meet we can qualify the 400 free.”
As for the Lady Bulldogs, their times aren’t quite hitting the state standards as yet, but Ebarb is proud of the way the team is fighting.
“The girls are giving it everything they’ve got,” she said. “This is just such a new team this year. Two-thirds of the team is brand new with no swimming experience. Some of the kids also missed two weeks of workouts during Christmas, one because they were out of town and then one because we couldn’t get in the pool, and when you’re doing a sport like this, you just can’t miss that many days.”
Following this week’s trips to Carlsbad, the swimmers will have a week off before heading back to Cave Country Feb. 6 for the District Meet.
“The kids are all really improving, but it’s hard when they haven’t swam the last two or three years,” Ebarb said. “I’m running out of kids who learned to swim in Waterdogs. So we have to teach them the basics. It takes a couple of weeks just to get used to the water, then it takes a couple of months to learn how to race. They’re just now getting to that point. Hopefully by district, they’ll have it figured out.
“But they’re a really strong, close group, and they’re loving every minute of it. They’re getting more out of it than anyone will ever know because they don’t get to see them swim.”