Spartan swimmers push the pace

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© Richard Gillard/Acorn Newspapers
FOUR OF A KIND—Rio Mesa High swimmers, above, from left, Nick Vallejo and Kenny Compton star for the boys’ squad while Gretchen Plander, bottom left, and Madison Schmader are standouts on the girls’ team. All four are juniors at RMHS. © Richard Gillard/Acorn Newspapers
Rio Mesa High boys’ and girls’ swim teams plan on dominating in the pool.

The Spartans can count on last year’s team MVPs Madison Schmader, Gretchen Plander, Nick Vallejo and Kenny Compton to lead the way.

Each swimmer has a distinct personality.

Schmader is quirky and goofy. Plander is bubbly and gregarious. Vallejo, a Michael Phelps doppelganger, is quiet and modest. Compton is a veteran who takes pride in Rio Mesa’s history.

In the water, they glide like erudite narwhals through the esoteric Arctic Ocean.

“All the kids are multidimensional,” boys’ head coach Keith McKnett said.

Schmader, 17, excels at the 500- yard freestyle. She also competes in the 200 freestyle and 4×100 relay.

The longer the race, the better. She enjoys the 1,650 race, which is 66 laps long. The 500 is the longest high school event.

“I love long-distance races,” Schmader said. “Sprinting interrupts my groove. A distance race is more forgiving. In sprinting, one thing goes wrong and you’re through. In distance, you can make up for lost time.”

Schmader attained a personal record in the 500 in 5 minutes, 19 seconds to earn fifth place at the CIF-Southern Section Division 3 finals last year. She’s a defending Pacific View League champ in the event, too.

The Spartan also has a Pacific View title in cross country, which she earned as a freshman.

She got involved in swimming eight years ago in Virginia when she couldn’t find a Girl Scout troop.

Schmader admitted she wasn’t hooked on swimming at first. It was a time to hang out with friends and mess around, she said. That all changed when she joined the Rio Mesa Swim Club and trained with coach Bill Oliver.

“He’s a real quality coach,” Schmader said of Oliver. “His workouts are great.”

She doesn’t mind jumping in the pool at 5 a.m. for twohour workouts, then practicing with her fellow Spartans in the afternoon.

“I like it,” she said. “I’m a morning person. It wakes me up. It gets the blood pumping.”

Schmader, an honors student with a 4.1 grade-point average, has a younger brother, Nicholas, a RMHS freshman.

Plander swims the 200 individual medley and 100 butterfly. She also competes in the 4×50 medley relay and the 4×50 relay.

The ultimate team player, Plander competes in the 100 butterfly even though she last raced competitively in the event at age 12.

“She’s very versatile,” girls’ head coach Derrick Timmons said. “I can put her in anything. I can put her in distance, sprints, strokes—everything. She’ll swim it fast and well.”

Plander, who played water polo as a freshman and sophomore, hopes to earn consideration times for the CIF-SS Division 2 preliminaries in the 200 IM and 100 butterfly. Rio Mesa moved up to Division 2 this season.

The junior’s best time in the 200 IM is 2:25.

“I love it,” Plander said of swimming. “This is a good, hard workout.”

Camarillo’s girls won the Pacific View while Rio Mesa shared second place with Oxnard. Plander hopes the Spartans can rebound.

“We’re definitely trying to go for first,” said Plander, an honors student with a 3.5 GPA.

Plander also enjoys dispensing advice to teammates. A friend even suggested to her that she should be a Special Olympics swim coach.

“I like helping people individually and seeing them improve,” Plander said. “I love helping people here.”

Vallejo is a gifted sprinter for the Spartan boys.

He thrives in the 100 and 200 freestyle races. He also competes in the 50 free, 100 backstroke and medley and freestyle relays.

Vallejo set a personal record in the 100 freestyle in 49.7 seconds last weekend at Villanova.

“This season, I’m looking forward to seeing how much everyone improved,” Vallejo said.

“We’ve got a good program here. It would be nice to keep it going for years.”

Coaches insist no one’s improved more than Vallejo.

“The kid’s taken off,” McKnett said. “He couldn’t even do a flip turn his freshman year. He was totally raw.

“He’s a natural athlete. He’s built like a swimmer—he’s tall and lean.”

Vallejo has worked on shortening his stroke. The technique change has worked wonders on his times, but he admits he still can improve.

The junior said he wants to break the school record in the 100 freestyle before he graduates.

“It’s been on my mind since my freshman year,” said Vallejo, who played water polo for two years.

Vallejo, who has a 3.2 GPA, volunteers at the Bible Fellowship Church in Ventura.

Compton specializes in distance races, the 500 and 200 freestyles. He also competes in the 4×100 and 4×50 relays.

“I prefer the 500,” said Compton, who has been swimming for eight years. “It’s really a test of your mettle.”

The Spartan won a league crown in the 500 last year and set a PR in the event.

He’s concerned with helping Rio Mesa maintain its history of success.

Since 1999, Rio Mesa’s boys have never lost a Pacific View meet, going 72-0 while clinching 12 straight league crowns.

“I’m proud of this team,” said Compton, an honors standout in the classroom with a 3.2 GPA. “I really hope we keep up the good work.”

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