The Cochrane Piranhas are swimming into provincials next weekend after what was the club’s most successful regionals showing in their 50-plus year history.
In terms of sheer numbers, the Piranhas sent the most athletes they ever have to regionals at the MNP Community and Sport Centre in Calgary Aug. 5 to 7 and accumulated a total of 886 points, besting their past record of 788 points from 2019.
“The kids are so pumped and so proud of themselves. We had some amazing breakout swims,” said head coach Amy Swedlo. “We haven’t been able to have regional or provincial meets for three years and so to come in and put this huge stamp on it, it’s so exciting.”
The club’s individual swimmers raked in 25 gold medals, 34 silver and 14 bronze at regionals. In relay swims, the club won nine gold medals, nine silver and one bronze.
And once again, Piranhas swimmer Aaron Xiao broke another provincial record – this time it was his own, set less than a month ago in the 50-metre backstroke.
Xiao was .24 seconds faster than his previous record of 31.07. New to the club this year from the Calgary Swordfish, he currently holds a provincial record in three of 12 ASSA individual swim events in the 11 to 12 year old age category, with the other two records being in the 100-metre butterfly and backstroke.
The former Swordfish, as well as U6 swimmer Meadow MacPherson, Eli Fitzsimmons in the age 13 to 14 category, and assistant coach Max Kruger also beat club records in one or more of their respective individual competitions at regionals.
Two club relay records were also broken by Oliver Johnson, Isaac Thibodeau, Caebri Smith and Eli Fitzsimmons in the boys ages 13 to 14 free relay, and Reid Boukall, Alexander Broz and Xiao in the boys 11 to 12 200-metre medley.
Swimmers were able to compete in up to four individual events and could earn a maximum of nine points per swim. The Piranhas' high points gold medalists were Xiao in the boys 11 to 12 category with 36 points, Danica Fisher with 34 in the girls 13 to 14, and Smith with 34 points in boys 13 to 14.
Silver medalists included MacPherson with 30 points in the girls U6 category, Fitzsimmons and Thibodeau, who were tied in the boys 13 to 14 group with 32 points apiece, Aaron Swedlo with 34 in the boys 15 to 17, and coach Kruger with 31 points in men’s over 18.
Lennon Arsenault grabbed a bronze medal for her points contribution in the girls ages seven to eight category
There were also some disqualifications and inevitable heartbreaks, Swedlo added, but nothing the disappointed swimmers couldn’t overcome.
“There were some who didn’t do as well as they hoped they would. That always happens,” she said. “For those kids, it’s about bouncing back from that – and they did.
“We had two kids that went through some pretty big disappointments that carried on and performed well afterward. That’s a huge credit to them with their mental game and says a lot about their mental strength and ability as an athlete.”
At the end of the weekend, the club finished second behind the Calgary Swordfish in overall points accumulated.
The club's performance at regionals means Cochrane is sending a swarm of 34 Piranhas to the Alberta Summer Swimming Association (ASSA) Provincials in Edmonton Aug. 12 to 14. That’s over half the club’s 60 swimmers.
Counting coaches Swedlo and Kruger, who competed and qualified in over 18 events, they’re sending 36.
Swedlo said she knew the club had a great crop of talent this year and originally predicted they would send about 28 of their members to provincials.
“This is our best placing ever and I was actually wrong about my original guess,” she said with a laugh. “It’s a pretty cool thing to be wrong about in this case. We exceeded our expectations, which were already quite high.”
Club president James Lange highlighted 12-year-old Brooklynn Yorke’s performance in her age category’s 200-metre mixed medley relay at regionals as an example of the team’s spirit right now.
Yorke was three-and-a-half seconds behind the leading Swordfish swimmer toward the end of the event when she “took off like a rocket,” Lange said.
“She ended up winning that race by a second-and-a-half and she was a second-and-a-half faster than she was in the same individual competition a few hours earlier in the day," Lange said.
“Coming out of regionals, you really just feel like a team in what can feel like a very individual sport at times,” he added. “At the medal ceremony, I thought our team had the best presence there – we were cheering the loudest for all our people and it just felt really good coming out of it.”