BY STEPHEN LYNCH Special to The Californian
Eric Sande has been swimming since he was 6 years old. But it wasn't until the end of his freshman year of high school that the recent Stockdale graduate realized that he might have a real talent for the sport.
Sande certainly demonstrated his immense skills for going fast in the pool this past season, winning the Central Section Division I 100-yard breaststroke title with an automatic All-America time of 56.09 seconds while also taking part in the Mustangs' section-championship 200-yard medley relay team (1:36.03).
Sande, The Californian's Boys Swimmer of the Year, also added a silver medal, finishing second in the 200 freestyle (1:41.16) to Clovis West's Justin Wright.
Sande's Stockdale teammate David Hamilton, who finished second in 3-meter diving at the Division I section meet with a score of 356.15 points, is The Californian's Boys Diver of the Year.
"It was my senior year, so I definitely wanted to go out with a bang," Sande said. "I just worked hard this year. I couldn't have done it without my teammates. They pushed me in practice."
The naturally self-motivated Sande didn't need much pushing according to Stockdale coach Clark Jue.
Jue, who has coached high school swimmers for 16 years, calls Sande one of the best he's ever coached.
"He was focused all season," Jue said. "He improved every week and got his times down. He did an awesome job."
A three-time first-team All-Area selection, Sande came into the final season of his prep career having never finished in first place at a section meet.
Determined to finally win a gold medal, Sande came three-one hundredths of a second from breaking the section's 100-breaststroke record by posting a time of 56.03 in the prelims.
"My goal coming into the meet was to get that record," Sande said. "And I ended up not getting it, so that was disappointing, but it was still awesome to win the race."
Sande was even happier when he teamed up with Brock Bonetti, Logan Collier, and A.J. Spiller to win the medley relay title.
"In the relay it's not about you," Sande said. "It's about all four of you. It's about the team. And so to do that with those three other guys, some of my best friends in the world and favorite teammates, it was awesome."
Later in the day, Sande helped Stockdale's 200 freestyle relay team take third place.
Sande's four medal-winning efforts at the section meet paved the way for the Mustangs to finish fourth in the boys team standings.
Sande started his foray into swimming at a Rio Bravo-Greeley recreational league. By the time he was in ninth grade, he had progressed to the point of qualifying for the Central Section Championships.
Soon afterward he joined Bakersfield Swim Club in an effort to continue to get faster.
"It was at that point that I said, 'Hey I'm going to ride this as far as I can,'" Sande said. "And I'm still going."
Sande credits a strong work ethic for his success.
"What holds a lot of aspiring swimmers back is that not a lot of them realize that you have train 100 percent every day to reach your goals," Sande said. "And once you reach your goals, you have to make new ones and you have to keep training."
Sande acknowledges that everything that he's accomplished wouldn't have been possible without the assistance of the men (Ed Edgemon, Adam Bledsoe, Clark Jue, David Graves, and Vance Elmore) that have coached him along the way.
"I can't thank each one of my coaches enough," Sande said.
The 6-foot-4 Sande readily admits he's consumed by his sport, and he will continue, swimming on scholarship for the University of Minnesota.
"I'm ready," Sande said. "I did my time at Stockdale and feel like I couldn't be any better prepared than I am. I'm ready to take that next step and become a collegiate athlete."