STERLING – It’s been a tough go for the Sterling girls swimming and diving team as far as numbers and wins are concerned, but 2017 may be a different narrative.
The Golden Warriors have only won one meet in each of the last three seasons, but have already won two so far this fall. Sterling opened its season with a 107-75 victory over the Ottawa/LaSalle-Peru co-op, and beat Moline 99-86 on September 5 for the first time since 2011, meaning nobody currently in the program was even in junior high yet.
“It was such an awesome feeling,” Sterling coach Jamie Ruiz said of beating Moline. “This team has worked really hard this year. We’ve had Kerry [Mullen] and Kallie [Zuidema] at the top, but didn’t have the seconds, thirds or fourths. The goal is always to get as high as we can. We don’t have to win every event, but we have to seed high in every event.”
“We’re really happy with the way the season has started,” senior Kerry Mullen said. “It’s the start we wanted and we were striving for, but didn’t really expect.”
The Warriors had to replace a Division I diver in Zuidema, who owns two school records with scores of 274.20 (6 dives) and 461.11 (11 dives). She was the first-ever Sterling diver to medal at the state meet, and the first Sterling girls swimmer to place in the top three at state after finishing third with a score of 444.75.
Nobody had finished better than sixth.
“She always had a smile on her face,” Mullen said of Zuidema. “I learned from her it’s a big deal to always have someone that’s always happy. By the end of the season when we’re all tired and have four morning practices, it’s easy to get at each other’s throats. But if you have that one person who’s happy and bubbly, it releases the tension a little bit.”
To make up for the graduated star, Sterling is relying on their strength in numbers. There are 26 girls in the program, and many of them devote plenty of time to refining their crafts.
“We have a lot of girls who’ve swam with the [Sterling] Stingrays or for club teams,” Ruiz said. “That knowledge and experience has really benefitted our team. At least 75 percent of them swim in the offseason, which is huge.”
“It definitely helps,” sophomore Lauren Moeller said. “We may not always get first place, but the seconds and thirds help, too.”
In keeping momentum going, Sterling will have to navigate a tough schedule, and losses to Peoria Notre Dame and DeKalb-Sycamore this past week at the Duis Center. Moeller and Mullen are the headliners, but depth should help the Warriors as the season wears on.
“Our goal has to be to get to the end,” Ruiz said, “which is how many people we can get to state and score as a team in sectionals. We’d love to be in the top three.”
“We’re just trying to better ourselves from last year,” Mullen said. “We want to win one more meet, drop one more second, improve our standings by one more place. We’re competing against ourselves.”