Sterling girls swimming coach Jamie Rodriguez remembers being impressed by several Rock Falls swimmers when the Rockets helped form the Morrison co-op team in past seasons.
Now, Rodriguez will be able to coach and train those Rock Falls athletes.
Beginning in the upcoming season, the Sterling boys and girls swim teams will co-op with Rock Falls for the foreseeable future. Sterling will host the practices and become the home school for the Rockets’ swimmers.
“It will really be good for us,” Rodriguez said of the co-op agreement with Rock Falls. “We know at least one girl is a pretty fast sprint freestyler from Rock Falls, Michaela Busch, but we’re not really sure who else we’re going to get.”
Busch will be a junior in the fall, and competed on the Rockets’ varsity track team as a sprinter as a sophomore last spring. Rodriguez hopes that Busch can help strengthen the team immediately.
Though the two schools will merge teams, Rodriguez and boys swimming coach Kyle Ruiz aren’t sure of the specific number of swimmers who will join the new co-op between the Golden Warriors and Rockets.
It is expected, however, that about two Rockets will join the girls team in the fall, while around four will join the boys team in the winter.
The hope is that those numbers rise as the Rocket athletes will be able to practice and compete much closer to home, compared to the distance to Morrison. Cutting down on travel time and long trips home from meets late at night played a big factor in the move.
“It’s a little safer for travel for the athletes,” Rodriguez said.
Rock Falls athletic director Rich Montgomery called Sterling athletic director Greg King a couple months ago to ask if combining the two teams would be something that would interest the Golden Warriors.
The Rockets wanted to compete closer to home, and Sterling was the natural option. The co-op agreement lasts for two seasons and may be renewed at the end of the period upon the agreement of the two schools.
“Most of our kids swim together in the summer, and the Rock Falls kids wanted a closer place to swim,” King said. “It worked out well.”
“It never hurts to have more athletes,” said Rodriguez, whose girls program projected to be a handful of kids smaller than previous seasons. “It’s fun to get the opportunity for larger numbers.”
Rodriguez expects that the relays will benefit the most from the added swimmers, adding another wrinkle into the depth. She also noticed that there is a big number of swimmers in seventh and eighth grades that would go to Rock Falls currently swimming for the Sterling Stingrays club team.
“There are quite a few that are coming up,” she said. “It means that we have a potentially strong group that will be here in a few years.”
Ruiz is excited about the opportunity to add more swimmers to his team, and figures that having more swimmers will increase the competition among teammates, which will make for better practices and faster times during championship meets.
“It will increase our inter-team competition,” Ruiz said. “Hopefully it will motivate kids. Right now, they do a great job already, but when it comes down to sectionals and you can only take two kids per event, I think they will do a good job of competing and it will make for a good team atmosphere.”
The Rocket swimmers will now help bolster Sterling’s swim program, which has been quite successful in previous seasons. The Golden Warriors have sent an athlete to the state meet in each season since the 2010-11 season.
Sterling graduate Keaton Dir qualified for state last season as a senior in the 100-yard butterfly and the 200 freestyle, finishing 24th and 14th, respectively.
Cade Coursey finished 15th at the state diving meet last season as a junior, and also qualified for state as a sophomores in 2013.
During the 2012-13 school year, boys swimmer Keanu Interone had the second-fastest qualifying time in the 100 breaststroke, while Charli Wike qualified for state in the 100 breaststroke as well as the 200 individual medley during the girls season. Shannon Long earned a spot at state in diving the same year.
Interone was fifth in the 100 breaststroke as a senior after a runner-up finish in the event as a junior.