Spend upwards of 20 hours a week in the pool training on an elite level swim team and you can work up a healthy appetite.
So if you’re coaching a historically successful high school swimming program, why not throw weekly pizza parties?
“Pizza does wonders for high school kids,” longtime Torrey Pines High Coach Richard Contreras said.
Contreras should know.
Friday night pizza is part of his effort to bring some fun and comradery to stressed students/athletes juggling the demands of hypercompetitive sports and academic environments.
Those efforts seem to be paying off.
The Falcons girls and boys teams are in the midst of dynasties.
The girls team last month won its ninth straight San Diego Section Division I championships, eclipsing a CIF record of eight consecutive titles previously held by the Carlsbad boys team. Torrey Pines’ boys team won its fifth straight title last month.
The Falcons’ program features nationally-recognized swimmers and regularly sends athletes to the state meet. But you don’t have to be an Olympic trials qualifier to have a piece of the pie.
“All you have to do is show up for practice,” Contreras said.
Contreras acknowledges that over the years he’s had to take a more disciplinary approach to certain teams. But those were the exceptions.
“There’s a lot of high school coaches who are overbearing in that regard,” he said. “They demand too much of a club kid’s time, and want to oversee them more than is beneficial to either person’s time – the high school coach or the club swimmer.”
Contreras tries to keep the competition in perspective.
“I keep it fun for everybody,” he said. “I care just as much about the swimmer who’s learning how to dive at the beginning of the year, going to the JV meets, as I care about the kids who are going to state trying to win the 100 (yard) freestyle. I try to make it fun and enjoyable for everybody.”
His coaching style has resonated with his swimmers.
“I love having a coach like him because I have a club coach to be the ‘bad guy’ in that kind of sense,” said Kira Crage, who’ll be a senior in the fall.
Crage is among the top swimmers on a girls team Contreras said is the best he’s ever had.
Contreras has been the team’s head coach since 2003 and an assistant since 1996.
The girls team had no seniors, meaning if everyone stays healthy, they’ll return intact next spring. “Pretty frightening” for other teams, Contreras said.
Crage was a double winner in the 50- and 100-yard freestyle. She was part of a 400 freestyle relay that set a section record at the prelims and earned All-America honors. The team also featured junior Jordan Naughton, sophomore Megan Woelkers and freshman Mia Kragh.
Junior Leah Coffin won the 100 butterfly and placed second in the 100 backstroke.
Junior Amelia Cho won the 100 breaststroke ahead of teammate Dani Rosenthal, a junior who placed second.
Freshman Natalia Boese placed second in the 200 individual medley and fifth in the 100 backstroke.
Naughton, Kragh and Woelkers all finished in the top five in the 100 freestyle.
On the boys’ side senior Jordan Blitz, who is headed to Cornell, defended titles in the 200 and 500 freestyle.
Junior Kaito Koyama won the 100 breaststroke.
Crage said that comradery exists on the club circuit too, but she believes the high school experience is different.
“I think you can ask any club swimmer and they’d tell you high school is so much different just because you’re swimming for your school which is that extra motivation. You have the whole team aspect with club, but it’s different with high school because there’s so much range, you have kids who’ve never swam before and kids that are making Olympic trials.
“It feels bigger than maybe a club swim team because you get to go to school as a CIF champion and everybody recognizes you.”
And then there’s the pizza.
“It’s like bonding time, getting to be closer with the people that you don’t always see that much on campus,” Crage said.“The pizza is the most important thing, we don’t have it enough.”