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Sandsharks spoil former Yuma High coach's homecoming
The setting of Marcus Pool was familiar for Kim Valenzuela. The role, however, was not.
As a coach for the Blythe Desert Dolphins, the former Yuma High swimming coach came to Marcus Pool as a guest in a three-team meet between the Yuma Sandsharks and Calipatria on Tuesday afternoon.
“It's weird to be out here in my green shirt. I'm used to being on the deck with my Criminal shirt on. So it's weird to be here as a guest and see the pool you coached at,” said Valenzuela, who was the head coach for Yuma High in the 2010-11 season and was an assistant from 2002-05 and 2009-10.
The Sandsharks ended up winning the meet with 982 while Blythe finished with 549 and Calipatria had 152.
“This is the first time we've seen them. They look great — as always,” Valenzuela said about the Sandsharks.
Valenzuela spent plenty of time catching up with old friends, and Sandsharks coach Max Cristofori was a former swimmer under Valenzuela at Yuma High.
“It was more fun to catch up and see how she's been. I was wondering what she would think and hoping we could do a good job and our swimmers look good and she can be proud of us,” Cristofori said. “It wasn't so much our team versus their team, it was just a friendly rivalry.”
Several of the Sandsharks swimmers made sure that Yuma got the best of the friendly rivalry. Ten-year-old Danielle Monroe won the 50-yard butterfly (36.97), the 50 backstroke (42.40) and the 50 freestyle (34.72). Monroe felt that she probably could have gone a little faster in the backstroke, if not for an accident.
“I didn't get a really good turn. I hit myself in the face with my knee,” Monroe laughed. “I was too close to the wall.”
Talen Osborn, 10, once again swept all of his events, cruising to wins in the 50 backstroke (33.94), the 50 breaststroke (40.02) and the 50 freestyle (29.43). Sydney Tunell, 11, also won all three of her events, taking the 50 butterfly (32.57), the 50 backstroke (35.93) and the 50 freestyle (30.09).
One of the most exciting races came in the 11-12 boys 50-yard butterfly, where the only racers were the Sandsharks' Jesse Russell-Cheung and Josh Furhmann. Russell-Cheung led after the turn, but Furhmann made up enough ground to finish with a time of 36.19, just fast enough to beat Russell-Cheung's 36.37.
“It makes it a little harder because everybody is either looking at you or the other person,” Furhmann said about racing against only one other person. “I didn't see him because the water isn't clear, so I had no clue if I was winning or losing. When I looked up at the time, I was really surprised, I didn't think I could beat him.”
Russell-Cheung also narrowly missed finishing first in the 50 backstroke, where his time of 37.96 earned him second place behind Kempton Osborn, who finished with a 37.07. Russell-Cheung would get his revenge in the 50 backstroke, finishing first with a time of 38.47 — ahead of Osborn, who got a 38.63.
Another familiar face at Marcus Pool on Tuesday was former Kofa swimmer Katelyn Weddle. Back from racing in the Olympic Trials in Omaha, Neb., Weddle has been helping out the Sandsharks — a team she once swam for.
“When I first began swimming, I started with the Sandsharks. When I was 5 years old, this is what I did. So it's natural to help,” said Weddle. “When I first started out, I finished last. It didn't matter what race it was, I ended up dead last. I just did it in the summer for the Sandsharks because my mom wanted me to stay in shape and do something in the summer. So I tell them they can do it if they just don't give up.”
Monroe said she gets some inspiration knowing Weddle went from Sandshark to Olympic hopeful.
“She's an incredible swimmer. She's mostly a breaststroker and she's really fast,” she said about Weddle. “It's cool that she made it to the Olympic Trials. It's cool to know that she started out where I am.”
With Weddle's instruction on the breaststroke, the Sandsharks helped spoil Valenzuela's homecoming. However, as coach of the Desert Dolphins and the Palo Verde Valley High swim team, she feels her teams have the tools to compete.
“We have a really nice pool, it's like the one we have down at the (Valley Aquatic Center) and —” she said, before catching herself. “I still say ‘we' like I still live here.”
Jesse Severson can be reached at email@example.com or at 539-6881. Find him at facebook.com/YSJesseSeverson.