Liberty swim team readies for last year
For The Madera Tribune
Sierra Gonzalez, the only member of the Liberty Hawks swim team, stands with Liberty High School Vice Principal Kandance Osborne, left, and coach Alex Martinez after a swim meet last year. Gonzalez has been the lone member of the swim team for the past two years and had some success with a few podium finishes. She will swim for the Hawks this year and might have a teammate for the first time.
When Liberty’s Sierra Gonzalez enters a classroom, some of her teachers announce, “The swim team is coming in.”
For the past two years, Gonzalez has been the only swimmer in Liberty Hawks’ history and returns for her senior year in the spring.
“It’s kind of funny to be known as the swim team,” she said. “I enjoy it. It’s funny because they say the swim team is walking in. People joke with me saying I have all the school records right now.”
However, it wasn’t easy for Gonzalez, even when it came to choosing a high school to attend. However, thanks to cheerleading, Gonzalez went to Liberty High School and made history.
“I started swimming when I was in the third grade,” she said. “I knew I wanted to swim when I went to high school so I was looking at other high schools to go to so I could swim. I ended up making varsity cheer as a freshman here, so I decided to stay.”
Although interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, it didn’t deter Gonzalez in trying to form a swim team at Liberty.
“During my freshman year, we were trying to figure out a way I could swim for Liberty,” she said. “I talked to (Liberty Athletics Director Mike) Nolte. Then, COVID happened. The next year, when we came back to school, my mom told me to try and ask again. I did and started to swim with Kerman.”
So, Gonzalez began swimming for the Liberty Hawks as a sophomore as a one-person swim team for Liberty, but with the Kerman Lions.
“To be able to compete, Nolte was calling around,” she said. “When we first started, Kerman was the only school that said yes. They figured out a way to make everything happen for me. It was really nice. The coach was super nice and I’m going to miss him this year. I always felt like Kerman was a second home.”
She practices with her club team at Madera South. Her coach is Alex Martinez. Her events are the 100 freestyle, 50 freestyle and 100 breaststroke.
“I’ve done pretty good. Not last year, but the year before when I was constantly swimming, I was fourth in the 50 free at the NSL,” she said.
Since Liberty is now in the Northwest Sequoia Conference, Gonzalez can’t swim with Kerman to qualify for championships. She said she will swim with Sierra with the hopes of earning a bid to the Central Section championships.
“For swimming, it’s a lot harder to qualify for valley for individual events,” she said. “I have to train a lot to make valley. I have to make a little more training year. The ultimate goal is to qualify for Valley.”
Although she is by herself at the meets representing Liberty, Gonzalez is enjoying her time.
“It’s been fun. Even though, I’m by myself, I have the team aspect with the other team I swim with,” she said. “I feel like I’m a part of their team. I’ve made connections with a lot of people because of swim. I have friends all over the place now.”
She has been the lone Liberty swimmer the past two years, but that’s not for lack of trying.
“I have tried to recruit friends,” Gonzalez said. “Last year, I think there were some calls of people that wanted to join. This year, I think there will be a boy that will swim with me.”
Ultimately, Gonzalez would like to see Liberty build a pool, and hopefully, that will keep swimmers at the school.
“My idea was we really need a pool here,” she said. “I know a lot of kids that swim for other clubs. They want to go to school here, but since we don’t have a school here, they go to Clovis to swim. We need to keep all these people, but since we don’t have a pool, they leave. If we get a pool, I’m sure we will have a swim team.”
She says it’s hard to try to attract more members to the swim team because there isn’t a pool for them to swim at. For Gonzalez, she uses her club swimming as training, which makes it difficult for other swimmers to train.
“Because of the fact they have to find somewhere to swim, they can’t find somewhere to go makes it tough,” she said. “I swim with my club and it’s not free. Nolte said he can’t promote it because it’s not free. So if they choose to, they can, but they can’t promote it. People wanted to join the swim team.”
Gonzalez will still train at Madera South and compete under Liberty. She will follow Sierra’s schedule and compete with hopes of reaching the Central Section Championship.
“As long as I have a time for championships, that’s all that matters. I may get points, but it won’t really matter,” she said.
In addition to competing as a one-person team, Gonzalez has to deal with injuries to her shoulder.
“I had surgery on my shoulder in seventh grade,” she said. “At a rally when I was a sophomore, someone fell on me and injured my shoulder again. When I’m swimming, my shoulder keeps slipping out so I wear KT tape. At a swim meet, coaches told me it was illegal even though I have a doctor’s note. It’s legal for high school. I only ever wear the tape at swim meets because of how hard I’m throwing my arm.”
Gonzalez’s dream is to be able to swim in college, but isn’t sure she can because of her shoulder. She plans to major in kinesiology to become a physical therapist.
“It will depend if I can swim in college on how my shoulder is because of how much damage it’s doing to my arm,” she said. “It will depend on what the doctor tells me at the end of the season. I would want to swim in college. I’ve been applying, but I don’t know where I want to go.”
One thing is for sure, Gonzalez has left her mark at Liberty High School.
“I feel like I did a lot of different things in high school,” she said.