The American Canyon High swim team was decompressing from its girls’ first-ever win over Solano County Athletic Conference rival Benicia last Wednesday.
Cross-town rivals Napa High and Vintage were taking respites before facing each other this Wednesday, hoping to stay in Monticello Empire League title mix. Justin-Siena and St. Helena were getting ready to resume league competition after spring breaks.
For the 14th year, the Shannon Nicole Lemieux Aquatics Day was a chance for the valley’s high school aquatics athletes – swimmers, divers and water polo players – to forget about rivalries, practice schedules and postseason goals, and just have a pool party.
This year’s meet included a synchronized swim performance, water polo and diving exhibitions, a cannonball contest, and wacky coed events such as the Costume, T-Shirt, Floatie Toy and Beach Ball relays.
“The Shannon,” held each year at the Vintage High Aquatics Center, is also a benefit – through gate donations, concessions and silent auction – for the Shannon Lemieux Memorial Scholarship Fund, which to date has awarded $104,000 in scholarships to deserving graduates from all participating schools.
It has been organized by Dan and Lori Lemieux since the inaugural one in 2005, two months after their daughter – the meet’s namesake and a gifted Justin-Siena junior – died in an automobile accident. They’ve said the event’s themes of expression, humor and academic achievement over the years have reflected their daughter’s personality.
The American Canyon girls defeated Benicia for the first time last week, handily, and their JV girls also won. In the boys meet, the Wolves came closer than ever before to beating Benicia, and will get another shot when they host the April 27-28 SCAC Championships.
“Every year they’ve been the kind of team we don’t look forward to going against because they’ve always pummeled us, so this was really invigorating,” American Canyon junior captain Duncan Applegarth said.
But American Canyon senior Taylor Delacy’s goals were different Saturday.
“For me and my friends, our goal was to do the Floatie Relay because last year my friend had the avocado floatie and that was like the big thing, so we’re doing it again,” Delacy said. “It’s nice to get away from the normal stuff we usually do. This is one of the highlights of the season, definitely. At the beginning of the season, my friends and I plan ahead, saying ‘OK, for the Shannon meet, this is what we’re going to do.’ Some people are really competitive when it comes to some relays, but it’s nice to see people’s fun sides – their costumes, what they bring for the Floatie Relay. It’s really nice to see how they choose to express themselves.”
Applegarth, an All-County goalkeeper for the water polo team last fall, arrived at the meet too late to do anything but cheer on his team – and have a Rubik’s Cube-solving competition with a friend. He said he had to take an ACT exam that morning.
“Our school’s been coming here for a few years now, so it’s one of our little traditions,” he said. “It’s a fun relay meet and everyone gets really excited. It’s a nice break from the constant pounding of getting in the sets, putting in work to try to reach your top times. I think it’s nice for the coaches, too, to see the lighter side of the kids.”
It was the fourth Shannon for St. Helena seniors Maddie Gardner and Connor Ivanoff.
“It’s really cool – every year it gets better, I think,” Ivanoff said. “It’s fun because you build traditions. We always love to do the Costume, Floatie and T-Shirt relays. Every year we build upon the costume and floatie themes and since I’ve done it for four years, it’s cool to watch the new kids, the next generation of swimmers for our team, do them.
“It’s also cool because we get to see all the other schools in the area that we don’t get to swim against. Both of us have swum club since we were tiny, so we know a lot of these kids and now we get to swim against them again.”
Ivanoff struggled to conquer the Costume Relay once again in a cumbersome shark outfit.
“Some of us are lifeguards at the St. Helena pool,” Gardner said, “and we thought he was going to drown.”
The Saints host Sonoma Valley in a nonleague meet Tuesday and – with Calistoga – visit Coastal Mountain Conference foe St. Vincent de Paul in Petaluma on Thursday, before hosting the CMC Championships on April 27.
“Other than (the CMC) Championships, this is the only meet we have that (isn’t short), so having everybody here all day long talking and hanging out and cheering each other on really helps build our team spirit. And because we’ve been trying really hard at all our other meets, it’s fun to just play around.
“We just swam against Vintage (on Thursday at home) and everybody was really competitive, and now everybody’s playing around and it’s really fun to see them like that. We have a lot of new swimmers this year and we don’t know them that well, so it’s nice to see a side of them that we don’t get to see at practices or meets.”
Does being silly at a Shannon hurt their reputations as captains?
“No, I think it actually makes it better,” Gardner said, “because everyone can laugh at us now instead of us just laying down the law.”
Justin-Siena junior captain Kevin Galvin, a two-time All-County water polo player who also played basketball this winter, is swimming for the Braves again after sprinting and jumping for the track and field team last spring.
“I’d been doing swimming my whole life, so I thought I’d try something else,” he said of track. “But I missed swimming.”
Preparation and planning is key for a three-sport athlete such as himself, but it all goes out the window at the Shannon.
“There’s no preparation for the Floatie Relay,” Galvin deadpanned. “We had a pink flamingo the last two years, but that guy graduated and we just had a doughnut this year. I like that relay, and the Dog Paddle one.”
The Braves hadn’t competed in three weeks prior to Saturday, and have only two more Marin County Athletic League dual meets – at San Rafael this Friday and against visiting Drake on April 27 – before the May 3-5 MCAL Championships at Drake. So they’ve been mostly practicing day after day.
“This meet gives us a break from working hard,” Galvin said. “You don’t really have to warm up or anything. You just get in and swim, and you see everyone from all the other teams.”
When it was suggested that basketball might benefit from such a Shannon-esque competition, Galvin agreed.
“Yeah, with shooting competitions maybe,” he said, adding that he’s excited that the Braves will be in the same league as American Canyon, Napa and Vintage next school year. “We have a lot of young guys this year, but next year we’ll be really fast, I think.”
Justin-Siena sophomore captain Meghan Hansen, another two-time All-County water polo player who is also on the swim team, said she most enjoys the Floatie Relay and Backstroke Relay at the Shannon. She said her club swim team, the Sonoma Sea Dragons, have a Halloween meet where they have to swim with a pumpkin.
“Getting to do coed relays is fun because you get to swim with people you don’t normally get to,” she said.
Vintage senior swimmer Olivia Neal was on hand but not competing, due to injury. But she said she enjoyed participating in the previous three Shannons.
“I like being with my teammates, participating in as many races as I can, and having a good time with people. It makes memories,” she said. “I like the Floatie Relay. I’m personally very funny when I’m in it; I can’t move because I’m trying to figure out how to get on it.”
It was the second Shannon for Vintage sophomore Aedyn Frazer and first for freshman Tyler Kortie.
“It’s a fun experience and it’s going toward a good cause, fundraising for scholarships,” said Kortie, who swam club for Waves Aquatics Napa Valley for three years before joining the Napa Valley Swim Team this year. “I just did the T-Shirt Relay and it was kinda easy for me. I just put my arms through the (neck) hole, so it looked like a dress on me.”
Frazer welcomed the levity of Shannons after competing for eight years in one of the most serious sports, wrestling.
“This is completely different from anything in wrestling,” she said. “I’m now a swimmer, diver and water polo player, so having this outlet at the Shannon to do all three of those things and let go. It’s more fun than intense.”
Kevin Raab has been to past Shannons as head coach of the Napa High water polo teams. This year, his first as the Indians’ head swim coach, it had a direct impact. Napa High’s boys are 3-1 in MEL meets, tied with Vacaville and Rodriguez for first place, and will be back at the Vintage pool for Wednesday’s Big Game meet and the April 26-28 MEL Championships in pursuit of the league title.
But on Saturday, there was no talk of the Big Game nor MELs.
“There was some trash talking, like ‘We’re going to beat you in the Beach Ball Relay,’ which was fun and made it interesting,” Raab said. “This is a good change of pace. Normally I tell them what to swim. This time we had a list and I had them sign up, so they got to take some ownership.
“Our costume person got sick and couldn’t make it, so we weren’t in that relay. It was hard to have this meet between AP study sessions and tonight’s prom, and we had three or four juniors taking the ACT this morning. But our younger kids got to swim a bunch of races, so that was good.”