One of the largest groups of College of the Sequoias' swimmers and divers to reach the California Community College Athletic Association Championships in recent memory returned home well decorated.
Jillian Lambert captured an individual title to highlight 11 podium placings for the Giants' nine total competitors (seven men and two women) during the state meet held May 5-7 at East Los Angeles College in Monterey Park.
"Our success this year is attributed to extremely hard work in the weight room paired with focus and determination," fifth-year Giants coach Ally Briano said. "When things were shut down for COVID, we saw it as an opportunity and we pulled ahead and improved ourselves instead of taking the break or an opportunity to rest."
Lambert won one of the most dramatic races of the meet, striking gold in the 50-yard freestyle.
The freshman out of Golden West High touched the wall in 24.32 seconds, three-tenths of a second faster than runner up Camryn Bussy of Sierra.
Bussy had beaten Lambert in the preliminaries, finishing in 24.43 compared to Lambert's 24.63.
"I knew I had a chance, so I really stepped up my game in practice (leading up to the state meet,)" Lambert said. "When I touched that wall first, it was super cool. It was a lot of hard work getting there, but completely worth it."
Lambert is Sequoias' first state champion in any sport since Ismael Ramirez won the state men's cross country title in November 2019.
The daughter of former Sequoias swimming standout Erin Stubbs, Lambert placed in two other events to help the Giants' women finish 18th as a team with 55 points. Orange Coast was the women's state champion with 469 points.
Lambert was second to Bussey (52.90) in the 100 free in 53.01. Lambert also finished third in the 100 breast, topping her own school record in 1:07.40.
Lambert plans to return to Sequoias next season with hopes of earning a scholarship to swim at a four-year university, and to break her mother's school records in the 100 free (51.78 in 1996), 50 free (23.96 in 1998) and 50 butterfly (25.97 in 1998).
She already holds Sequoias' records in the 50 breast (31.7), 100 breast (1:08.53) and as a member of the 200 free relay team (1:45.17).
"I'm really wanting those records," Lambert said. "My mom's like 'get my name off those records and put your's on them.' I'm trying. I'm going to get there."
The Giants' women also received a 15th-place performance from Eva McIlwaine (Hanford West) in the 200 breast in 2:37.75.
Joshy Peters helped Sequoias' men's team place eighth in the state with 161.5 points after competing in three events individually and four relays, including four podium finishes. Sierra was the men's team champion with 573 points.
Peters, a freshman out of Redwood, had his best performance in the 200 free, finishing eight-tenths of a second behind champion Andrew Espinosa of Sierra. Peters clocked a 1:41.17, bettering his own school record while dropping 6 seconds off his time over the past two weeks. He was seeded third in the 200 free entering the state meet.
"It was super, super close," Peters said. "You couldn't tell who won if you were watching. It was pretty crazy."
Peters placed third in the 100 free, bettering his own school-record in 45.44 after entering as the sixth seed. Espinosa won the race in 45.13.
"I knew I was really going to have to push to make the top three," Peters said of the 100 free. "Fortunately, I was able to push myself and outperform a couple of guys and squeeze into third."
After entering as the 10th seed, Peters placed eighth in the 200 individual medley in a school-record 1:55.94. Tony Clevenger set the previous mark of 1:56.31 in 1977.
"I wasn't expecting much out of this race. It's never my strongest because of the breaststroke," Peters said. "But I gave it everything I had."
Peters also reached the medal podium as a member of the Giants' 400 free relay team, which finished eighth in 3:12.42. He was joined by Zachary Welch (Exeter), Connor Bruton (Mt. Whitney) and Mark Marroquin (Kingsburg).
The same four swimmers placed ninth in the 200 free relay in a school-record 1:26.45.
The team of Peters, Welch, Bruton and Ezra Sisk (El Diamante) placed 11th in the 400 medley relay (3:36.67) and 13th in the 200 medley relay (1:38.48, a school record).
"Everyone outperformed themselves, and everyone they needed to to come away with a medal," Peters said. "We're going to come back super strong next year. Hopefully we can get some more first at state next year."
Sequoias' men received a pair of podium placings from Jude Dizon (Golden West) and Welch.
Dizon was fourth in both the 1-meter (188.20 points) and 3-meter (162.55 points) dives, while Welch was seventh in the 200 free (1:45.43) and eighth in the 100 free (47.48).
Welch also finished 13h in the 50 free (21.43).
Giants' diver Ezra Cox (Tulare Western) was 16th on the 3-meter (107.95) and 17th on the 1-meter (107.35) boards.
"I am extremely proud of this team's accomplishments," Briano said. "The Central Valley produces so many wonderful aquatics athletes, and there is no need for them to always choose the far away school if they want to keep improving and performing their best. We are creating athletes right here in Visalia who are being scouted and recruited by NCAA Division I, Division II, Division III and NAIA schools, and we have the contacts to plug them in to the right program they want to end up in."
This article originally appeared on Visalia Times-Delta: COS swimmers shine at state meet