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Halfway through year one under Coley Stickels, Santa Clarita's Canyons Aquatics is in good shape

Posted: May 25, 2013 7:29 p.m.
Updated: May 25, 2013 7:29 p.m.

Canyons Aquatics has undergone changes over the last six months, as coaches and swimmers have adapted to new head coach Coley Stickels, left. Through the first six months under Stickels, swimmers have produced a number of best times and significant results.

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It’s been just over six months since Coley Stickels was chosen to replace longtime Canyons Aquatic swim club head coach Jeff Conwell — and in that time, Canyons hasn’t missed a beat.

The leadership styles between Stickels and Conwell are significantly different, which, according to coaches and swimmers took some getting used to.

Conwell’s focus was more on high volume and distance. Stickels’ focus is more on high-intensity sprint and dryland drills.

Gone are the days of high school swimmers waking up at 4:30 a.m. and racing off to practice before returning again after school.

For the most part, swimmers and fellow coaches have reported many of the changes having positive effects — but, of course, there were growing pains along the way.

“It’s like anything you start new,” said Senior Gold and Saugus High head coach Vicky Donnelly. “If you’re going to buy into what he’s selling, and you really do what he’s asking of you, then you’re going to see the results.”

If the recent Foothill League high school season is any indication, the swimmers have certainly bought in.

“Most of our group under Coley has achieved best times in almost everything we’ve swam,” said Canyons and Hart swimmer Matt Johnson. “Which is a huge show of what Coley’s been doing for us. Obviously my performances at CIF and other meets have, I think, been from Coley’s training.”

The CIF-Southern Section meet was a big indicator of what Canyons Aquatic has been doing well.

Often, the Foothill League’s top swimmers have achieved greatly at Foothill League finals, and struggled at the CIF competition.

This year was different, with a number of swimmers breaking records and posting low times — led by Saugus sophomore Abbey Weitzeil’s CIF-Southern Section record-breaking performances in the 50- and 100- freestyle events.

Johnson earned All American honors in the 200 free and 500 free at the meet, while Valencia freshman and Canyons swimmer Kevin Dai broke the Foothill League record in the 200 individual medley.

“Almost all best times in every event in a six-month period,” Stickels said. “Our goal was to go out at CIF and get as many second swims as they could get.”

He’s also had a positive affect on the rest of the coaching staff.

“What Coley has brought so far that’s helping the coaches out is he lives, thinks, trains, eats swimming and he’s always coming up with new things to keep his kids interested,” said Canyons Aquatic Senior Blue and Valencia High head coach Mike Bechtholdt, who was also the interim head coach of Canyons Aquatic before Stickels was hired in December.

“He’s always coming up with new things to keep his kids interested,” Bechtholdt said.

Canyons Aquatic also recently hosted the Open Water Nationals at Castaic Lake, continuing the swim club’s rise on the national stage.

This summer, the Elite team is training swimmers for World Championship Trials, where Weitzeil and Johnson will both compete.

“That’s the main goal is to make sure we compete on a national, and even international, stage,” Stickels said.

But the overall program is more than just the Elite group Stickels coaches, and he’s been happy to see a competitive culture throughout all levels.

I coach the group right underneath his,” Donnely said. “So I’ve already started taking in some of his dryland workout stuff that is super beneficial for the kids. I’ve tried to really talk to him and learn and figure out ways to implement what he’s doing into my group because those kids one day will become his kids. I want to make that transition as (easy) as possible.”

With an emphasis on more athletic swimmers, Canyons Aquatic is continuing to prepare swimmers to meet new heights in the water, and realize their dreams outside of it.

“The goal with the kids at the end is to get to their pick of schools. I want to help the kids go to school wherever they want to go. We want to open doors for them,” Stickels said.

With a record number of Olympic Trials participants for the club last summer and a crop of Division I talent coming out of the club on a yearly basis, the doors Stickels refers to were certainly already cracked open by Conwell.

And under Stickels, at least if the last six months are any indication, the club seems destined to continue it’s climb.



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