Zoe Childers said she’s improved more in the last year—both physically and mentally—than in any other 12-month stretch in her burgeoning swim career.
It shows. The Sobrato High sophomore enters the Central Coast Section Prelims on May 5 at Hollister High with an opportunity to advance to the CIF State Championships in her best event, the 100-yard butterfly.
A versatile swimmer, Childers won the 100 fly and 100 breaststroke in the Blossom Valley Athletic League Championship Finals on April 29 at Independence High. However, Childers has chosen the 200 individual medley over the 100 breast as her second individual race for the CCS Meet.
Childers led a host of local swimmers who shined in BVALs. Results were categorized by the league’s three divisions: Mount Hamilton, Santa Teresa and Almaden Valley. Sobrato competed in the Mount Hamilton Division this season and Live Oak in the Almaden Valley.
Live Oak’s future looks extremely bright as it was led by a trio of freshmen in Ella Call, Kaysie Leong and Aadhavan “Auto” Raja. Call won the 200- and 500-yard freestyle races, a testament to her stamina and endurance as the latter race is the longest in high school competition.
Call’s time of 5 minutes, 23.63 seconds was the second fastest out of all divisions and a CCS qualifying mark. Leong won the Almaden Valley title in the 100 fly in 1:01.30, and Raja took second in the boys 100 fly in 1:00.80.
Live Oak coach Tom Lebherz, who is the meet director of several notable high school and club events, has done a nice job of resuscitating the Acorns program which couldn’t field a team as recently as two years ago.
The Bulldogs also have one of the section’s top divers in junior Katherine Nicole Lim, who enters the CCS Championships with the second highest point seed total, at 531.10. The standouts at Sobrato and Live Oak is proof that the pool of swim talent in the area is on a resurgence.
Childers noted others took notice after Sobrato’s 400 free relay team of Ciara Looney, Rachel Hoge, Abby Humphrey and Childers finished third in a fast time of 3:47.01, a whopping 10 seconds below the CCS cutoff mark.
“You see the reaction of others and they’re saying, ‘Wait, Sobrato got third? Where did that come from?’” Childers said. “So it’s really exciting when you can beat the other schools because Sobrato isn’t super well known for swimming like some of those San Jose schools. I love swimming with my friends, I love swimming with the girls.”
The same quartet also teamed up to finish sixth in the 200 medley relay race in 1:54.50, well below the CCS cutoff of 1:58.99. The team consists of an athlete at every grade level, with Looney (freshman), Childers, Hoge (junior) and Humphrey (senior).
That’s rare in itself, adding to the uniqueness of the group. Childers, who has been swimming competitively since she was 6 years old, pointed to a decision she made at the beginning of summer 2022 to switch away from the 200 fly and 400 IM for the club/juniors events for a period of time as key to her improvement in the last year.
“I was at such a mental block with both of those events and they made me nervous,” she said. “But now that I’ve been focusing on the 100 fly and 200 IM, I think my technique really improved and I’ve gotten into a better mental state where I can withstand the longer events. Going through that, I now understand those longer events are not as hard as I thought they would be. I feel like I can handle the bigger races now and larger competition because the stress doesn’t get to me anymore. It’s more fun now than it used to be.”
Swimmers go through a tremendous grind so perhaps it’s no coincidence that Childers’ times have dropped in the last year as she has rediscovered her joy in the sport. Currently just a half-second off the State Consideration Qualifying time in her best event, the 100 fly, Childers is primed for fast times in the CCS Prelims.
From last year to this season, Childers has dropped nearly a second in the 100 fly and a half-second in the 200 IM, and though that doesn’t seem like much, it means more to a swimmer who is already posting fast times because progress is often incremental, not sudden.
“I’ve really improved from last year and even from the last winter [club] season,” she said. “This has been my most successful season to date because I’m dropping times in all my best events. My training has really paid off this season and it’s showing in my times in the championship meets and events.”