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SPRING ATHLETES: Versatility propels Velazquez to peak of swimming ranks

Michael Velazquez was looking for a challenge.

The sophomore at Green Valley was in the middle of the dog days of the high school swimming season, so Velazquez asked Gators coach Bob Swift if he could swim the 500-yard freestyle during a dual meet against Las Vegas on April 20.

With one twist.

Instead of using the traditional crawl stroke, Velazquez wanted to swim all 20 laps using the breaststroke.

“After about 100 (yards), I started regretting my decision,” Velazquez said with a chuckle.

Velazquez finished second to teammate Connor Smith that day, and his time of 5:56.95 ranked him in the top 30 in the event in the Sunrise Region.

More than anything, though, the performance showcased Velazquez’s prodigious talent in the water.

Velazquez won two individual events at the Division I state meet last month and was a member of two winning relays, a showing that earned him the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s Division I boys swimmer of the year.

“He’s a great kid,” Swift said. “He’s excellent in his studies and he’s a good leader for us coming up.”

Velazquez did not qualify for state as an individual during his freshman year, but certainly made up for it this season.

Velazquez finished second in the 200 individual medley and fifth in the 100 backstroke at the prestigious Meet of Champions Invitational on April 13 at Walnut, Calif.

He then dominated at the Sunrise Region meet despite not tapering his workouts and went on to set two school records at the state meet.

Velazquez won the 200 IM in a time of 1 minute, 53.35 seconds, the top mark in the state regardless of division and a National Interscholastic Swimming Coaches Association All-American consideration time.

Since it came at a 4,600-foot elevation in Carson City, Velazquez’s time converts to 1:52.15, according to USA Swimming’s altitude-adjusted times.

In addition, Velazquez won the 100 breaststroke in 57.79, which is also a NISCA All-American consideration time, and helped the Gators capture the 200 medley and 200 freestyle relays.

“I felt like I was the guy that a lot of people depended on to anchor relays and expected me to win my events at state,” Velazquez said. “Going in, I had a feeling I was the favorite, but it’s still nice to win both of my events.”

Swift said he saw signs early on that Velazquez was in line for a big season.

“I could tell with his splits and how he was going out in the IM,” Swift said. “He was hitting benchmarks throughout the season and I knew he was going to do something really great.”

SPRING ATHLETES OF THE YEAR

BASEBALL

Division I — Chandler Blanchard, Coronado: The Pepperdine signee hit a school-record 12 homers and went 10-1 with a 2.66 ERA and two saves as the Cougars won the state title.

Others — Tanner Howell, Boulder City: The Dixie State (Utah) recruit led Southern Nevada with 59 RBIs and was the Eagles’ No. 1 starter as they reached the Division I-A state final.

SOFTBALL

Division I — Savannah Horvath, Centennial: The junior set school records in batting average (.585), home runs (17) and RBIs (87) and was named the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s state Player of the Year.

Others — Vanessa Sanders, Cheyenne: The senior catcher batted .663 with 23 doubles, eight home runs and a state-record 87 RBIs in only 35 games for the Desert Shields.

BOYS VOLLEYBALL

Division I — Tyler Cucullu, Coronado:  The senior outside hitter notched a team-high 237 kills and helped the Cougars win their second straight state title.

Others — Tyler Gardenhire, Tech: The 6-foot-4-inch junior recorded 18 kills in the Division I-A state final to lead the Roadrunners to their first championship.

BOYS GOLF

Division I — Taylor Montgomery, Foothill: The UNLV recruit shot a 6-under-par 136 at Sierra Sage in Reno to notch his third state championship.

Others — Luke Logan, Boulder City: The sophomore won the Division I-A state title and also took medalist honors at the Southern Region tournament.

BOYS TRACK AND FIELD

Division I — Randall Cunningham, Bishop Gorman: The junior high jumper earned his second state title, and his winning mark of 7-3¼ is No. 1 in the nation.

Others — Tyreek Carter, Mojave: Led the Rattlers to the Division I-A state title by winning the 100 and 400 meters and anchoring the victorious 4×200 relay.

GIRLS TRACK AND FIELD

Division I — Sydney Badger, Centennial: The junior was the state champion in the 800, 1,600 and 3,200 meters and also ran on the victorious 4×400 relay.

Others — Jasper Gray, Cheyenne: Won the 200 and 400 meters at the Division I-A state meet and ran on the Desert Shields’ state champion 4×100 relay.

BOYS SWIMMING

Others — Jared Smith, Boulder City: Posted the top times in the state regardless of division in the 200- and 500-yard freestyle at the Division I-A state meet.

GIRLS SWIMMING

Division I — Olivia Barker, Bishop Gorman: The senior broke her state record in the 100-yard butterfly to go with the 200 individual medley state title.

Others — Alex Hubel, Boulder City: The sophomore dominated the Division I-A freestyle sprints, winning state in the 50 and 100.

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