Mason Sanders was expecting to break the Indian River High School 50-freestyle record at the Henlopen Conference championships last Saturday, and rightfully so. The senior had been knocking on the door of former teammate Carter Michael’s 2013 time of 22.67 all season, somewhat infamously coming up just 0.03 seconds shy on not one, but two, separate occasions during regular season meets.
What Sanders was not expecting, however, was being named the Henlopen Conference Outstanding Swimmer of the Year — an award made through coaches’ votes that, in the recent past, has typically gone to Cape Henlopen senior Jack Weeks. But, this year, Sanders instead heard his name called when it came time for the closing ceremonies.
“Jack Weeks has won it year after year. He puts up some Division I college times, but that shouldn’t take away from Mason’s effort,” said IRHS head swimming coach Colin Crandel. “It was a coach vote, and that makes me all the more proud. I think the coaches recognized what he’s become. Apparently, he made an impression on them.”
During his four years with the team, Sanders has also made quite the impression on his teammates, who, like Crandel, agreed that the award was well-deserved.
“He deserved it. He deserved it more than anyone,” said junior McKenna Burke. “He’s a hard worker. He has a lot of heart, too.”
“He works so hard,” added junior Erin Haden, “shows up every single morning to practice, no matter what. He is always there.”
The achievement was one of many for Sanders, who had himself a triumphant day in what was the final conference championship meet of his career — going on to not only claim first-place medals in the 50-meter freestyle and the 100-meter freestyle, but to finally eclipse the record in the 50-free as well.
“It feels good to finally get it,” Sanders said. “At the beginning of the year, I knew I was gonna get it here, just with that tiny taper, I knew I was gonna get it.”
But even rested from that slight taper, not everything went according to plan last Saturday. In deciding to try a new diving technique for the 50-free, Sanders found himself in a tough situation after coming off the blocks and hitting the water.
“I actually tweaked my dive,” he explained. “Right when I dove in, my goggles filled up like a quarter of the way with water. Every time I took a breath, I closed my eyes.”
With the record on the line, Sanders battled through the setback, however, eventually locking the first-place effort and looking up to the scoreboard at his time of 25.23 — which, even though it had to be converted from meters to yards for an official time, he still knew was finally the one he had been aiming for.
“I didn’t realize it at first, and then I looked up and everyone was jumping up and down. Then I turned around, and I looked up and I saw it,” he said. “I knew the two guys on my right and my left. I knew they were good, and I knew they were gonna push me. To have both of them next to me — it was an honor to swim with them. They push me to my full potential.”
After the impressive performance at conferences, Sanders will gear up for one last meet at the end of the month, when he and the Indians head to the University of Delaware for the state championships.
Sanders at conferences:
50-meter freestyle: first place (25.23)
100-meter freestyle: first place (55.62)
Henlopen Conference Outstanding Swimmer of the Year