RIPON – Erika Brown reached heights unparalleled this past spring, capturing three events at the Sac-Joaquin Section Championships.
The Ripon freshman shattered section records en route to victories in the frosh/soph 100-yard freestyle and 100 butterfly and led Ripon to its first-ever Valley Oak League crown.
“My goal was to go there and win and try to break records,” she said of the section meet, “but I was surprised by how well I did.”
At times, Brown – besieged by medals and hype and victories and expectations – made it look all too easy.
Truth be told, it wasn’t.
Though the Bulletin’s All-Area Girls Swimmer of the Year turned in one of the finest seasons in recent memory, she struggled with internal questions about her future, her potential and the year-round club that would benefit her the most.
A season full of victory and celebration ended with heart-breaking news for her longtime club and high school coach Erik Zador. Brown is leaving Ripon Aquatics for the Pleasanton Seahawks, a club with a rich tradition and bigger budget.
“It was a tough decision. The people in Ripon are like family,” Brown said. “Erik, I had a great relationship with him, and his father Ervin was really special to me. He was important, but I’ll still have a part of him with me.
“I needed to do this. I feel like if I would have stayed I wouldn’t be able to go to the meets I wanted to and I wouldn’t meet the people that would inspire me. I feel like I needed to do this to become better. It was something that had to be done.”
While Brown struggled to make that decision, her swimming only got stronger as the high school season progressed.
The Indians claimed a share of their first Valley Oak League crown on the regular season’s final afternoon with a resounding victory over Sierra. Brown did most of the heavylifting in that dual, contributing wins in the 200 freestyle, 100 backstroke, 200 medley relay and 400 relay.
Ripon proved its championship was no fluke at the VOL meet, pulling away for a 24-point victory over Oakdale (129-105).
And so The Postseason of Brown began.
The soft-spoken 14-year-old made a very loud impression at swimming’s two postseason stops, shattering meet records at the VOL and section championships.
Brown reset the Valley Oak League’s standard in the 200 freestyle, breaking a 12-year-old mark established by Sierra’s Nicole Draa in 2001. She later helped the 200 medley relay win with a record time of 1 minute, 55.25 seconds.
In Lodi, for the section championships, Brown was nothing short of spectacular. Opting to race against freshmen and sophomores, Brown’s winning times in the 100 freestyle (50.72) and 100 backstroke (56.43) would have landed her on the varsity podium.
She would have captured varsity gold in the freestyle and silver in the backstroke.
However, her greatest triumphs were the ones she shared with teammates. The Indians’ 200 freestyle relay (1:40.38) won gold and the 200 medley relay placed second at sections.
Brown was joined by Maddie Hawes, Emma Lewis and Hannah Sweet on the relay teams.
“For me, the relay was the best. That was the greatest feeling. We all have worked so hard. A lot of us needed that moment to become greater swimmers. They needed that confidence.
“I’d say it built up our friendship. That was my favorite win.”
Zador appreciates Brown’s team-first mentality. His high school program is young and poised to build on its 2013 successes and all-around talents like Brown have fast-tracked the swim program.
“She did what I needed her to do. I would put her in events that worked best for the team and she had no issues with it. She was OK with anything that I decided for her. She is a team player.”
All of which made her decision to leave Zador’s year-round program even more difficult. Brown informed Zador of her decision to join the renowned Pleasanton Seahawks shortly after the team returned from section championships.
“It took a lot of time,” she said. “I knew that I needed to do it to be really good ... to reach my full potential. I didn’t want to leave everyone I already. I loved swimming there, but it came to a point that I knew it had to be done.”
Zador wishes his former pupil the best and believes she will continue to dazzle.
“All I can see is her getting better. ... She is an elite swimmer who has a ton of potential to achieve some really big things,” Zador said. “That’s all I hope for her. I try not to put pressure on her – she does that on her own. She’s very goal driven. She’s out there to achieve the best that she can achieve.”