With seven straight seasons in the Top 3 at the state meet, including state championships in 2005 and 2010, competing for the ultimate honors has become an annual rite of spring for the Ventura College men's swimming team.
Although, this spring, it looks like it will have some company.
By winning the annual Cuesta Invitational last weekend, when it topped the teams that have won the past four state titles, the Ventura College women's swimming team also showed it can compete on the state level.
"We're in the right company," said coach Larry Baratte. "Our relays are very strong."
With a hard-working sophomores class joined by 2010 All-American Shyla Motley and a deep, talented freshman group that includes Jessica Ball (Oxnard High), Abigail Puczkowski (Westlake), Christina Robledo (Santa Clara), Alicia Romero (Pacifica) and Taylor Amstutz (Oaks Christian).
"It's come together very nicely," said Baratte. "It's as good of a core of freshmen that we've ever had. They trained hard in the fall. They're versatile. They've filled a lot of events and relays."
A native of Valencia, Venezuela like former Pirates Katherine and Cristina Fung, Rafael Aponte and Rafael Ingannamonte, freshman Gaby Romero broke a 22-year-old school record in the 100-yard butterfly in San Luis Obispo March 9, finishing second in 58.56 seconds.
It wasn't the only record-breaking swim of the weekend, as freshman Henry Chung set the school record in the 100 backstroke Saturday, winning in 50.48.
The performance was remarkable considering Chung, who also won the 50 freestyle in 20.72 seconds and 200 backstroke in 1:53.35, bettered the mark of last year's state champion (Steven Tennant) in midseason, outside in windy conditions, on his fifth swim of the day
"It was one of the best swims Ventura College has ever had," said Baratte.
Chances are there will be many more from Chung, a Hong Kong national who will be chasing state records as he strives to qualify for the Olympics this summer in London.
"He passes the eye test," said Baratte. "He's intimidating when he gets up on the blocks."
Chung and sophomore Eric Donahoo led a men's team that features eight sophomores from last year's state runner-up, including Tyler Kaslik, Spencer Lewis, Thomas Maires, Coleman Goode and Griffin Pool.
"When you put those two together with that solid core of sophomores," said Baratte, "the freshmen just need to move from high school to college quickly."
The VC men won the Mount San Antonio Invitational Feb. 25, beating defending state champion Orange Coast 657-579, and finished second to Santa Rosa last weekend at Cuesta, 816-539.
"Santa Rosa is very good," said Baratte. "They're ahead of us right now. We have a long way to go if we're going to get past them.
"It's going to be based on the freshmen stepping up and accepting their roles."
In winning Mt. SAC, the VC men dominated the relays, winning the 200 free (Chung, Dillon Cleavenger, Donahoo and Lewis) in 1:26.73, the 200 medley relay (Chung, Goode, Kaslik and Donahoo) in 1:37.76 and the 400 medley relay (Chung, Goode, Kaslik, Donahoo) in 3:33.84.
Tyler Kaslik won the 500 free (4:48.65) and 200 butterfly (1:56.24). Chung won the 50 free (20.83) and 100 butterfly (51.83).
For the women, freshmen Ball and Puczkowski were highlights at Mt. SAC. Ball won the 500 free (5:22.61), 200 free (1:59.70), mile (19:10.17) and anchored four winning relays. Puczkowski finished second in the 50 free (25.55), 100 free (55.46) and 200 free (2:01.74) and was part of three of the winning relays.
Just the two record-breaking swims themselves would have made it a memorable weekend at Cuesta.
"It's been a long, long time since we've had a school record broken in the middle of the season," said Baratte.
But the VC women also earned a valuable lesson by edging Orange Coast by one point, 550-549.
"We won the first event of the meet by .06 and that was the meet," said Baratte. "They're learning that every place from one to 16 crucial. That's a different kind of environment."