Brophy swim coach Pat O’Neill knew Gabriel Espinosa was the favorite to win the 50-yard freestyle at the Division I state championship meet in early November.
But in a race that short, it’s never a sure thing.
A slow start or a bad turn can drop a favorite in the blink of an eye.
“The 50’s the worst,” O’Neill said. “There’s really about 20-to-30 bad things that can happen in a 50 race. And one of those can be the difference between finishing first and third.”
Espinosa, though, had been working too hard to allow for any mistakes. After second-place finishes in the 50- and 100-yard freestyles a year ago as a junior, the Brophy senior was intent on finishing his career as an individual champion.
O’Neill watched intently from the pool deck, finally relaxing a bit as Espinosa increased his lead on the back stretch.
“From the minute he stepped on the block until I saw the ‘1’ next to his lane in the display, I was nervous,” O’Neill said. “Anything can happen in those races. But once I saw him come up after his turn, it looked like he had a yard, yard and a half on the second-place guy. Once he got up and started churning, I knew he was probably going to win it.”
Espinosa won the 50 with a time of 20.67 seconds, outlasting teammate Bradley Dorsey by three-tenths of a second.
He won the 100 as well in 45.04 seconds, registering a second automatic All-America time of the day. He added a pair of relay titles with his Broncos teammates, and the impressive effort has earned him the Tribune’s Boys Swimmer of the Year award.
While all the glory came on that day, it was the hard work Espinosa put in during the off season which set him up for the payoff.
Once the swim season ends, it’s hard for coaches to keep their athletes motivated.
It’s cold out, final exams pop up and holidays interfere.
“There are a lot of distractions which can keep them away,” O’Neill said.
But not Espinosa. He didn’t miss a practice, intent on winning individual state titles after the silver finishes in 2011.
The short races are all about technique, and he spent hours fine-tuning his craft.
He will attend Virginia next season, and O’Neill sees a bright future for Espinosa as he leaves the high school scene with the titles he wanted.
“He would mention it periodically throughout the offseason, that he’s not going to be second place,” O’Neill said. “He didn’t miss any practices and he was doing extra weights sessions. He was tremendously motivated by it.”
All-Tribune First Team
Name Yr. School Event Comment
Bradley Dorsey Jr. Brophy 50 Free Three-tenths of a second behind Div. I star Espinosa
Gabriel Espinsoa Sr. Brophy 100 Free Titles, All-America times in 50 and 100 Free
Lukas Williams Sr. Brophy 200 Free Won D-I title by more than one second
Josh Olszewski Sr. Horizon 500 Free Cruised to D-I title
Michael White Sr. Dobson 200 IM Won D-I titles here and in 100 breaststroke
Alex Schultz Sr. Gilbert 100 Back Repeat champion in D-I
Matthew Anderson So. Arcadia 100 Breast Won D2 title, second in 200 IM
Joseph Starkweather Jr. Notre Dame 100 Fly Second in D-II, won 50 free
Bryce Farabee Sr. Highland Diving Won D-I state championship
Swimmer of the Year: Gabriel Espinosa, Brophy
Coach of the Year: Dave Tait, Queen Creek: The Bulldogs finished in third place in Division II and surpassed 200 total points.
All-Tribune Second Team
Name Yr. School Event Comment
Nicholas Magana Jr. Desert Mtn. 50 Free Third fastest in state
Seth Maddy Sr. Mesquite 100 Free Third in Division I
Ben Fitch Sr. Mtn. Pointe 200 Free Third in Division I
Antonio Ramiez Fr. Arcadia 500 Free State champion in Division II
Kyle Ewoldt So. Highland 200 IM Second-fastest in state behind White
Austin Drummond Jr. Chaparral 100 Back Second in Division I
T.J. Decker Sr. Brophy 100 Breast Edged out by White; second in Div. I
Ryan McCoy Jr. Brophy 100 Fly Fourth in D-I; All-America consideration
Sheldon Solomon Sr. Queen Creek Diving Captured Division II title
Arcadia: Danny Bullington, Sr., 50 free, 100 breast; Brophy: Jonas Fowler, Jr., 200 IM; Mountain View: Edgar Febres, Sr., 100 breast; Notre Dame: Jack Poupore, Sr., 50 free; Braxton Bilbrey, Fr., 200 IM; Paradise Valley: Brian Nebeker, Sr., diving; Queen Creek: Cason Flygare, Jr., 200 free, 500 free; Red Mountain: Ross McDonnell, Jr., 500 free.
Memorable moments from the 2012 season
Michael White’s surge: If Brophy came calling, Michael White very well could have ended up there for his high school years. Instead, he followed his coach, Jeff Anderson, to Dobson, a school which can’t hold a candle to the Broncos’ swimming success. But none of that mattered at the state meet. The Dobson senior won two state titles by finishing first in the 200-yard individual medley and 100-yard breaststroke. He and Brophy senior T.J. Decker had identical preliminary times in the 100 breast, but White touched the wall first in the finals by nearly a half-second.
Back-to-back: Gilbert senior Alex Schultz defended his 100-yard backstroke title from a year ago. He finished the state meet in a time of 50.71 seconds, beating out Chaparral’s Austin Drummond, who finished in second place in a time of 51.44 seconds. Schultz’s time was good enough for All-America consideration. He also finished as the top East Valley placer (third overall) in the 100-yard butterfly.