Column by Swimming World senior writer John Lohn
GILLETTE, New Jersey, November 12. FANS of the sport, particularly those with an appreciation for history, will remember Sergio Lopez as one of the finest Spanish swimmers of all-time, at the top of a list headlined by Martin Zubero. Lopez will be remembered for the bronze medal he won in the 200 breaststroke at the 1988 Olympic Games, along with additional medals at the international level.
In the second chapter of his career, Lopez has established himself as the caretaker of the rich tradition at the Bolles School in Florida. Actually, Lopez has done more. As the head man of one of the most prestigious scholastic programs in the country, Lopez has overseen accomplishments never before registered at the high school level.
There was plenty of excitement surrounding the Bolles School as it headed into the Florida 1A Championships during the weekend. National high school records were expected, especially after Bolles set a pair in the freestyle relays earlier in the season. Still, what the team produced was head-scratching, such was the impressive nature of the times which lit up the scoreboard.
Here's a quick rundown.
* The foursome of Ryan Murphy, Joseph Schooling, Josh Booth and Santo Condorelli popped a national-record time of 1:28.02 in the 200 medley relay, with Murphy leading off on the backstroke leg in an outrageous split of 21.09.
* In the 200 freestyle relay, Murphy, Schooling, Emiro Goossen and Condorelli clocked in at 1:19.27, good for another national record. This time around, Murphy led off in a national independent school record of 19.54 for the 50 freestyle.
* The same foursome as the medley relay knocked down national record No. 3 in the 400 freestyle relay, combining for a mark of 2:54.43. How fast is that time? Well, it would have placed seventh at last year's NCAA Championships.
* Oh, let's not forget the individual standards. In the preliminaries, Murphy, a UC-Berkeley recruit, became the national-record holder in the 100 backstroke in 45.34. Meanwhile, Schooling set a national standard in the 100 butterfly during finals, thanks to an outing of 46.50.
What Bolles packaged was the result of Lopez's vision, which started immediately after his move from West Virginia University, where he was the head coach of the Mountaineers.
"When I first got to Bolles six years ago, I told the coaches that we should think about building the team through the relays and to think about times that at one point could get the relays to NCAAs," Lopez said. "They thought I was nuts, but we have been working towards that since. This season for our boys was the perfect one because of the swimmers we have and the depth we have in our team. It was not very difficult to sell the idea."
Some will argue that the Bolles School has an advantage by boasting international athletes on its roster, such as Schooling (Singapore), and a stacked lineup of American stars. True, that ability allows Bolles to put together some incredible relay lineups. Nonetheless, that talent must be nurtured and Lopez has done a phenomenal job, along with his staff, of developing a squad which doesn't come along often.
In Murphy, Lopez has developed a standout who appears destined to be one of the next big stars from the United States. While Murphy has proven himself to be a versatile performer, he is already among the finest backstrokers in the world. At last summer's Olympic Trials, Murphy finished sixth in the 100 backstroke and fourth in the 200 backstroke.
Although Murphy must get the job done when the time comes, it is not unrealistic to believe he will be a favorite for Olympic gold by the time the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro roll around. Meanwhile, don't be shocked if Murphy lands a berth to the 2013 World Championships, such is his vast potential.
Additionally, the likes of Condorelli and Schooling have tremendous upsides, too. Schooling competed at the 2012 Olympic Games in London and has the potential to rate among the elite butterfly performers in the world.
"Ryan is one of a kind," Lopez said. "I am proud of him and for giving me this chance these past four years of coaching him. I think the way he trains, thinks and carries himself will help him accomplish his dreams. As you know we have many talented and hard-working kids in the USA and competition is hard, but I feel and believe that with a little bit of luck if he keeps evolving he will bring many happy moments to our USA Swimming community and our country."
With so many opportunities to showcase skills, such as the upcoming United States Short Course Nationals or Grand Prix competitions, credit must go to Lopez and his troops for putting their focus on the Florida state meet. Often, high school swimming is treated as the red-headed stepchild, hardly noticed. Lopez, though, knew he had a group capable of producing elite achievements, efforts which could endure for a long time.
Equally important, his athletes bought into the idea of fully resting for a state meet they could win without being at full force. Simply, they knew there was the opportunity to come together for something special. Along those lines, Murphy, Schooling and Condorelli unselfishly sacrificed second individual events in order to race in all three relays. Yes, they knew all three national records were there, and they put a team mindset ahead of personal accomplishments.
"I am very proud of everyone in the team since this has been a team effort," Lopez said. "Believe me that many of our boys have risen to another level of training and competing because they wanted to be in one of the spots. I really think this has done wonders for our future relays. With Ryan, Joseph, Santo, Emiro and Josh, I am very proud of them for believing and really working towards making history and doing something special. For all of us, (Saturday) was an amazing day that showed us that if we believe, work hard and have a little luck the sky is the limit."
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