Acalanes swimmers disqualified from NCS finals: “I’ve been working my entire high school career to get to this point”

LAFAYETTE — Taryn Veronda and Cale Hanson spent all season preparing for this weekend’s North Coast Section swimming championships. Countless hours in the pool helped the Acalanes seniors qualify for the big meet.

But Veronda and Hanson are among 13 Dons, including six other seniors, denied from competing on Friday at the Concord Community Pool because the electronic entry form the coach said he submitted to the section office was not received.

Coach Brett Usinger blamed the misstep on a glitch in the system. The Lafayette school is believed to be the only team that was unable to register its qualified swimmers.

The section made clear that the responsibility lies with the school and stands by its decision to move forward without the 13 boys and girls swimmers from Acalanes.

“Acalanes High School did not submit their NCS swim team entries for this weekend’s championships before the mandatory deadline of April 28, 2024, at 1:15 pm,” NCS commissioner Pat Cruickshank said in a statement to the Bay Area News Group on Wednesday.

“This occurred after a reminder was sent out to all NCS member schools by the section office that the deadline was mandatory and no exceptions for late entries would be made,” Cruickshank added. “The procedures and consequences for failing to follow these championship procedures were agreed to by NCS member schools.”

The fallout from the misstep and the section’s unwillingness to budge have left the swimmers devastated, especially the eight seniors who didn’t have an NCS meet their freshman season because of the pandemic.

Now, not only will they miss out on competing at NCS but they also can’t move on to the state championships the following weekend.

“I’ve been working my entire high school career to get to this point,” Hanson said. “Qualifying for individual events is not an easy task to do. It’s super important to all of us. The only way we can qualify for state is by swimming in this NCS meet.”

For swimmers who qualify for the NCS championships, coaches must manually enter their athletes into a computer program that helps organize swim meets called Club Assistant.

According to Usinger, he entered the names of his qualified swimmers and divers periodically last weekend. He said he finished on Sunday morning, before the 1:15 p.m. deadline.

But when Usinger checked on the submission page later that night to make sure his swimmers were on the list, he said none of them were recorded.

The only names to appear from Acalanes were its three divers.

Usinger said he frantically sent emails to NCS meet directors on Sunday night and early Monday morning but didn’t get a response.

The fifth-year head coach said Club Assistant does not send out email confirmations for submissions nor does it have the option to timestamp any entries. He described the submission process as a “big Excel sheet.”

Acalanes and Usinger were notified by NCS at 10 a.m. Monday that the section office did not receive any entries for Acalanes swimmers and that they would not be able to compete this weekend.

Immediately after the section’s ruling, Acalanes athletic community members voiced their displeasure on social media and created the hashtag #letdonsswim.

On Tuesday night, the 13 Acalanes swimmers posted a video to YouTube, asking for the NCS to reverse its decision.

“We all worked really hard this season to earn the opportunity to swim at NCS,” one swimmer said. “We deserve the chance to compete.”

While the efforts from the swimmers and the community have been valiant, the chances that the NCS’s decision will be reversed are slim, according to Acalanes athletic director Randy Takahashi.

“We believe we exhausted every possible avenue with the North Coast Section,” Takahashi said. “We’re going back to what NCS has determined in that we did not meet the deadline, and so our swimmers will not be in the championships this Friday or Saturday. As of right now, we’re moving forward (with the idea) that we won’t be able to compete.”

If Acalanes were to press the issue, there is a recent precedent for overturning a ruling similar to this one.

Three months ago on the East Coast, Longmeadow High School swimmer Benjamin Lyons won a case against the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association to allow him to swim in the state championships after a technical error made by his coach when entering his name into the meet caused Lyons to be temporarily disqualified.

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