By Nick Giannandrea
Ally Briano received a pleasant surprise when her College of the Sequoias' swimming and diving team convened after winter break.
Not only were the Giants excited about beginning preparations for the coming season, they were ahead of schedule in their training.
"They have had a really strong preseason and trained harder than they ever have before," Briano said. "We were able to start with our aerobic base under our belt. It usually takes about six weeks to develop that aerobic fitness in the water, but I felt like we were there in January when we started."
COS is set to launch the season at 1 p.m. Jan. 31 during the Central Valley Conference Kickoff at Merced College, a meet also featuring Fresno City and Clovis.
Briano's women's team returns six swimmers who contributed to the Giants' close second-place finish (1,415-1,404 points) to Clovis during last season's conference championships, led by Sophia Terry (Redwood High) and Anna Nippoldt (Immanuel).
Terry, the team's MVP last season, placed third at conference in the 1,650 free (19:38.98) while also competing in the 50, 200 and 500 free races.
Nippoldt is one of the Giants' most versatile women, competing in the 50 free, 100 back, 100 individual medley and 200 breast at the conference championships last season.
Briano said both have the potential to reach this season's state championships, which are set for May 1-2 at East Los Angeles College.
Vagim is expected to compete in various lengths of the butterfly and the 100 IM this season. Bradford will also compete in the fly as well as the free sprints, Rouse is set to handle longer freestyle and backstroke races, while Sarente is focused on the breaststroke.
Kallysta Cox (Strathmore) and Madison Pallares (Kingsburg) headline COS' eight-member freshmen class. Cos is slated to swim middle distance freestyle events, while Pallares will swim longer specialty events such as the 200 IM and 200 breast.
Other freshmen expected to contribute include Sarah Case (Badger) in the free and back, Mariah Louis (Visalia) in short sprints, Emileigh Palomino (Tulare Union) in the free sprints, Jordaine Rojas (Monache) in events to be determined, Andrea Truong (Redwood) in fly sprints, and Faith Gowen (Redwood) in diving.
"We are really hungry to come back and win the (conference) title this year," Briano said. "I think we have the ability to do it if we plug everyone into the right events."
COS' men's team features a pair of state qualifiers from last season in Chase Canterbury (El Diamante) and Timothy Van Scyoc (Mt. Whitney).
Canterbury made the state meet in the 100 back. He competed in the 100 and 200 IMs and the 100 back at the conference championships.
Van Scyoc placed 11th in the 1-meter (164.95 points) and 14th in the 3-meter (134.8) dives at the state meet. He also competed in the 50 and 100 free at the conference championships.
Other returners who helped the Giants finish second to Merced (1,755-1,486) at the conference championships last season include Noah Case (Tulare Western), Inocencio Salazar (Redwood) and Connor Kelly (El Diamante).
Case will compete in the middle distance freestyle events, Kelly is expected to swim fly and breast events while Salazar will swim distance freestyle events and the fly.
Marroquin, an accomplished club swimmer, has the potential to be the fastest man on the team in any event he swims. Briano said Marroquin will likely focus on individual medley and backstroke events.
Sisk also offers great versatility, as he's strong in the freestyle sprints as well as the fly, breast and IM.
Cahill played soccer in the fall for the Giants, while Everett initially went out for baseball before switching to swimming.
The rest of the Giants' freshman class includes Zachary Browne (Redwood), who is a freestyle sprinter; Andrew Chapman (El Diamante), a utility swimmer who excels in the breast and fly; Henry Ordonez (Hanford West), a freestyle sprinter and diver; and Porter Sumwalt (Central Valley Christian), a distance freestyler.
"I feel like this team is really strong," Briano said. "I believe we'll be in the mix (at conference)."
COS' only home meet of the season is set for 1 p.m. March 20 against Bakersfield and Cuesta.
The Giants also compete locally during dual meets at Fresno City on Feb. 29 and at Clovis on March 6, and at the CVC Championships on April 16-18 at Clovis.
The conference diving finals are April 11 at a site to be determined.
"I'm really thrilled to be their coach," Briano said of her Giants. "I can't wait to watch them drop their times and get some victories this year."