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Swimming with the Big Fish in the SCV
June, 2012 - Issue #92
Swimming in the Santa Clarita Valley tends to get pushed aside by the sports that draw the bigger crowds. But there's a hidden truth about it locally - it's one of the most successful sports in the SCV and one that helps define the sports landscape in our community.

Both high school and club swim is big here. In terms of participation, there are about 500 swimmers in the local high schools and 700 who swim for the top club team in the valley - Canyons Aquatic. With the beginner swim leagues and homeowners association groups, that means up to 2,000 active youth swimmers in the SCV, according to Canyons' Aquatic head coach Jeff Conwell. On top of that, year in and year out, the Santa Clarita Valley sends handfuls of athletes to the CIF championships. One of the brightest athletes in this valley's history is 2000 Olympics gold medalist swimmer, and Hart High graduate, Anthony Ervin.

"From a participation standpoint, not at all," said Canyons head coach Jeff Conwell on if swimming gets lost in the popularity of other SCV sports. "From a media standpoint, yes it does get lost at times, but that's the norm for our country. So called 'Olympic sports' like swimming and track and field rarely get the coverage we think we deserve based on our popularity and success."

Canyons is a very successful program. It was started nearly 30 years ago and today is ranked 17th by USA Swimming in the nation out of over 3,000 clubs, according to Conwell. It has served as a training ground for some of the best athletes in this valley's history, including Ervin.

Alumni include Hart High graduate Jordan Danny, who is at USC and competed in the 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials and three swimmers who went on to win NCAA Division I titles in Lindsay Gassner (Stanford), Kearsten Livingstone (Cal) and Nolan Koon (Cal). Nick Korth won an individual NCAA Division II title for UC San Diego in 2011.

Five Canyons swimmers have earned trips to the 2012 Olympic Trials - Konrad Antoniuk, Riley Mita, Michelle Duraj, Bob Hwang and Saugus High freshman Abbey Weitzeil.

Antoniuk's sister Nicole is currently one of Canyons brightest swimming stars. She is also one of the Foothill League's best at Hart High. It's not rare for one of this valley's top athletes to be wooed into more prominent areas for their sports, such as Orange County, but Antoniuk said the SCV is a great place to build a swim career.

"There were times when my parents considered moving out of the SCV, but being so attached to the school district and Canyons, it made it impossible for us to move," Nicole said. "Canyons is an extremely successful team. We decided to join Canyons because it has a history of having many incredible swimmers, including Olympic gold medalist Anthony Ervin."

She's also been part of this valley's high school swim dynasty - Hart High. The Indians' girls have won 29 of the last 30 Foothill League titles. The Hart boys have won the last 16 titles.

"I think swimming is so successful at Hart because we all push each other to be the best that we can be," Nicole said. "[Head coach Steve Neale] is also a big inspiration to us all, and we'd hate to let him down. No matter how bad we do on a race, he always has something positive to say."

Yet swimming has seen success across the board at all the Santa Clarita Valley high schools in some form or another. Nicole points out that the coaching is exceptional in the valley.

Vicky Donnelly, who coaches at Canyons and at her alma mater, Saugus High, points to talent as a major reason. And, she adds, for all the history of swim in the SCV, the future is exciting.

"The future of SCV swimming is bright because this valley is extremely lucky to have some amazing talent in the water right now," Donnelly said. "I think the biggest up and comers are Abbey Weitzeil, Matthew Johnson, Tamara Santoyo and Cole Cogswell, just to name a few. I could go on for a while with a list of super-talented swimmers we have in this valley."

And popularity could grow immediately. Donnelly is hoping that international success could filter down to the local level.

"I think we are starting to see some of the big swim meets televised more often and we are definitely seeing a bigger interest in swimming all around," Donnelly said. "With the upcoming Summer Games, swimming will definitely be in the spotlight."
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