Four years ago, Ripon High swimmer Ty Wells made a difficult decision.
On the cusp of his first Sac-Joaquin Section Swim and Dive Championships, Wells found himself at a crossroads: Would he compete in the frosh-soph meet and challenge section records in two events? Or dive into the varsity pool and chase a berth at the inaugural CIF State Swimming and Diving Championships?
His decision would alter history.
“I took a chance,” said Wells, a butterfly and breaststroke specialist. “There was a lot riding on my decision … a lot of pressure. It was all worth it. Everything turned out really well.”
Wells chose state over a section record, setting the trajectory for a high school resume unmatched in the southern half of the Sac-Joaquin Section.
Bound for the University of Arizona, Wells is the only swimmer from this area to qualify and compete at four CIF State meets. In keeping with streaks, he’s also The Bulletin’s All-Area Boys Swimmer of the Year for the second year in a row.
Wells qualified for State in two events this past spring, finishing 13th in the 100 breaststroke (57.14) and 16th in the 100 butterfly (50.52) in the fast waters at Clovis Olympic Swim Complex.
“My goal since my freshman year was to make it to State all four years,” said Wells, whose all-out pursuit forced him to abandon basketball after his sophomore year. “I had a rougher season this year, and it was a concern whether I would make State or not. When I did … that was my one goal.”
Returning for a fourth time proved difficult, though.
Wells’ training regimen was challenged from the start of his senior season. The Indians, the Valley Oak League team champion and one the section’s top small-school programs, were forced to move practices to Modesto Junior College while the pool at the Ervin Zador Aquatic Center was re-plastered.
Wells also lost three pace partners. Sierra’s Scott Tolman and Gregori’s Christian Britton left for Cal Baptist University, while Andrew Britton, a Gregori standout and 2017 CIF State champion in the breaststroke, missed most of the season with knee and groin injuries.
In 2017, Andrew Britton and Wells, best friends and training partners with Ripon Aquatics, pushed each other through a storied postseason. The younger Britton and Wells finished 1-2 in the 100 breaststroke at State, respectively, though Wells posted the meet’s fastest time and nearly set a state record in preliminaries.
Without a regular pace partner and a home pool for most of his senior season, Wells feared his return to State was in jeopardy.
“It’s huge having a pace partner,” Wells said. “With the long sets and long practices and early morning, you end up depending on them for everything, no matter what kind of day you’re having. Me and Andrew have been friends for so long. We have competitive attitudes that make each other better. Missing that definitely made things rough.”
Wells also spent less time in the pool, too, because of college trips. He chose Arizona, a Pac-12 school, over the University of Indiana, University of Utah, Cal Baptist University and the University of the Pacific.
Years from now, Wells hopes he can look back on his college decision as another pivotal crossroad in his swimming career. He had the choice to join pace partners and buddies Tolman and Christian Britton at Cal Baptist or his BFF, Andrew Britton, at Utah.
He chose the path less traveled, opting to join the Wildcats' warm-weather swim program. In Tucson, Wells will swim the 100 breaststroke and 100 butterfly. He could also pick up the 50 or 100 free, 200 individually medley, or 200 breaststroke as a third event.
“I needed to branch out a little bit and Arizona has everything,” Wells said. “I was looking to go off and do my own thing. Andrew and I have been swimming against each other since we were 7 years old and now we’ll be competing against one another in the same college conference.”
James Burns has covered high school and collegiate sports in the Central Valley for the last 20 years. Follow him on Twitter @jburns1980.
Matt Trejo, Manteca, So.
Lucas Esenwein, Ripon, Fr.
Noah Esenwein, Ripon So.
Nikolas Brink, Sierra, Jr.
Garrett Kmiec, W. Ranch, So.