For three months, Scott Tolman chased a time taped to the ceiling above his bed.
The mark was the Sac-Joaquin Section’s frosh-soph record for the 100-yard breaststroke, a seemingly untouchable time for any underclassmen from Merced to Sacramento.
The record stood for more than three decades, withstanding the challenge of hundreds of fresh-faced competitors.
And then a rangy sophomore from Sierra, wearing baggy sweats over his Speedo and Beats headphones around his neck, took aim it.
“Earlier in the season, my coach (David Breitenbucher) and a couple of us swimmers sat down and read this book,” Tolman recalled. “Afterwards I went up to him and asked, ‘What should I do?’ He said I should write down my goal time – and it was the section record.
“He told me to put it on my ceiling, so that I could go to bed looking at it and wake up looking at it.”
Eventually, it would be his. Tolman set a new frosh-soph record of 57.23, claiming one of two individual titles at the year-end meet.
After forgoing his individual program at the Valley Oak League Championships to position his team for a run at the team title, the Bulletin’s All-Area Boys Swimmer of the Year was the only local to win a section title of any sort at Tokay High.
Tolman also won the 50 freestyle in 21.61 seconds, but the breaststroke was his marquee event. He dusted the field, beating Valley Christian’s Nicholai Wickwire to the wall by more than three seconds.
Still, when he touched, Tolman hadn’t realized he had broken the section’s record. It felt fast, but not historically fast.
“Prelims, when I finished that race my time wasn’t that good; it wasn’t what I was expecting,” Tolman said of his qualifying mark of 59.99.
In the final, “I was expecting a personal best but not a section record,” he added. “When I saw that time, it was something different. It was something exciting. It’s exciting every time there is a record. There are a lot of emotions that go through you.”
Now he’s got another goal – only this one can’t be taped to his ceiling. That would classify as kidnapping.
This time, Tolman chases a living legend – former Golden Valley ace Conner Hoppe, a two-time section champion in the 100 breast and prized Cal Golden Bear recruit.
“I can see a star in him,” Tolman said. “He’s a very strong swimmer and I can see him doing well in the future.”
While Tolman’s accomplishments at the section meet were noteworthy, Hoppe’s final high school swim became a trending topic nationally.
Hoppe, who entered the season with the national high school record in his sights, was found in violation of the section’s club participation rule and ruled ineligible for the section meet.
He won his appeal and was allowed to compete, but ultimately fell short of the 52.92 posted by Nebraska’s Jacob Molacek in February.
Instead he found his way into another record book. Hoppe pulled away over the final 25 yards, closing with a split of 27.99. He won in 53.06, eclipsing the national public school mark set by Andrew Seliskar of Virginia in February.
Then and there, Tolman set a new goal: To build off the momentum of a scintillating sophomore campaign and do what Hoppe had intended.
“Moving forward, I’m looking toward what Hoppe was trying to accomplish,” Tolman said. “I want to try and accomplish what he wanted to do.”
Tolman won a Valley Oak League title in the 50 freestyle, his only individual event of the league meet. Instead, he swam three relays to better position the Timberwolves at a VOL team title.
“My goals this year were to break a section record and do the best I could for my team as well,” Tolman said. “I wanted to win league, but we weren’t able to do that. I think we can next year.”
He didn’t flinch when Breitenbucher asked him to swim three relays at the VOL Championships, sacrificing his individual program.
“He said we needed to do three relays because we had a chance to win VOLs. It was hard to take in because I really wanted to win my individual events,” Tolman said. “But it was best for my team, and I’ll always do what’s best for my team.”
He’d eventually get his hardware – his turn in the spotlight – saving his best swims for the section meet.
Now he’s got a new target – Hoppe’s 53.06.
“It’s going to take morning practices. I’ve got to keep coming to practice ready to work hard every time,” he said. “I can’t stop at the wall. I just have to keep pushing myself. I have to keep going.”