With an enthusiastic young group of swimmers, Amador Valley High swim coach Jon Pallesen wasn't surprised that his athletes had a meet to remember at the North Coast Section swimming championships. But he was thrilled.
A year after graduating a strong senior class, Pallesen's girls swim team had its best showing in recent memory. The Dons earned their highest finish in Pallesen's seven years at Amador Valley, taking third behind San Ramon Valley and Carondelet.
Pallesen is the East Bay Girls Swim Coach of the Year.
Led by sprinter Iris Brand, this year's freshmen class picked up right where last season's seniors left off.
"The last couple years (the freshmen) all swam together on the same club team," Pallesen said. "They saw the precedent that Catherine (Breed), Tori (Houston) and Natalie Wong set and were excited to jump into it. The passion and excitement were there from the beginning."
Amador Valley's two freestyle relay teams earned major team points, which was crucial because the medley relay team missed qualifying for finals. Three freshmen -- Brand, Rachel Knowles and Eva Chung -- joined junior Kirsten Brand in breaking school records in the 200 and 400 freestyle relays.
"It was an amazing, amazing drop," said Pallesen of the 400 relay team that placed fourth. "Just fantastic stuff."
Iris Brand won an individual title in the 50 freestyle while her older sister, Kirsten, earned three All-America times.
But Pallesen's favorite moment of the season came in a show of team unity at the East Bay Athletic Championships, where the Dons also took third behind SRV and Carondelet.
With Knowles needing to win a swim-off to make the 100 butterfly finals, Pallesen encouraged the rest of the Dons to rally their teammate.
She ended up winning the race.
"Literally the entire team was there cheering for their teammate," Pallesen said. "It was very surreal. When she finished, she had tears in her eyes looking at the fantastic support."