It’s clear that Desert Vista swim coach Shawn O’Connell has much more respect for Xavier than the Dodgers do for the Diamondbacks.
On the same day the Dodgers clinched the National League and took a dip in the pool at Chase Field, the Thunder beat Xavier 113-78 in a dual meet on Thursday at the Gators’ home turf — Phoenix Swim Club.
It was the first time Desert Vista ever defeated Xavier in a dual meet and only the second time the Gators lost in 29 years.
The Thunder celebrated pretty big, but O’Connell didn’t let the girls push him into the Gators’ pool unlike the Dodgers taking their celebration out to right-center field for a little dip.
“We want to win with respect,” he said. “It would have been disrespectful to do that in front of their competitors and parents in their pool. It was a great win that we have been chasing forever, but that wouldn’t have been respectful.”
O’Connell entered this season with similar expectations as previous years. The Thunder always has enough talent to be a top 10 contender with a top-five finish always a possibility if things fall into place.
The difference this season is the added depth by a superb freshmen class that has given Desert Vista enough back-end depth to score secondary points. In previous years, the Thunder could battle the Gators in most events for the individual title, but the Gators would pile on points in places fourth and lower.
“The freshmen have given us more depth than we have ever had before,” O’Connell said. “I saw a few meets over the summer and knew they’d have a chance to be good, but they’ve been better than I expected.”
There are at least five — Maddie Kovacs, Noelle Lavigne, Sydney Garvy, Emma Utagawa and Breanna Larchick — first-year competitors doing their part to an already talented group of upperclassmen.
Bailee Blankemeier, Maddie Nichols, Cecilia Kowalski and the Ankeney sisters, Annabella and Emily, are among the proven talent.
It’s a combination that can do a lot of damage this season and the win over Xavier, which has won 25 of the 27 state titles and 14 straight, can only help down the line.
“This was very important from the mental side of things,” O’Connell said. “We’ve been in this position before, but didn’t come through because either we didn’t quite have enough talent or we weren’t ready to compete. Now, every time we line up against them from now on we know we can beat them instead of hoping to at some point.”
The win meant a lot to the senior class — and those who are gone as O’Connell received texts, emails and Facebook posts from past swimmers — after so many years of the program trying to get over the hump.
“For it to happen this year, my senior year, is pretty special,” Emily Ankeney said. “We always lose to them, but now we can say we beat Xavier. They don’t lose but we did it. We went crazy. We were screaming, dancing and hugging everyone.
“It was fun, but more importantly it gives us confidence the rest of the year.”
The Thunder followed up the win with a good performance at the Wolves Invitational at Chandler High over the weekend as several relays and individuals earned automatic state qualifying times.
“It’s September,” O’Connell said. “There is a lot of season left, but it has been a very good start. We can build off this and get better through the year.”
The boys have been good as well and on the same day the girls beat Xavier the boys were within 30 points of Brophy, which has won 24 straight state titles.
“We haven’t been that close in a long time, if ever,” O’Connell said. “It was great day for sure. The most important thing to do now is to make sure it was just the start of something and not the highlight of the season.”
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