The Merritt Otters are busy preparing for the 2017 season of summer swimming. Members will officially hit the pool at the Nicola Valley Aquatic Centre in the first week in May.

The Otters are coming off a tremendous 2016 campaign that saw the club send a record 18 swimmers to the BCSSA championships in Kamloops last August.

Returning as head coach of the Otters this year is 21-year-old Gabriel Lee from Delta. A junior (third-year student) at Simon Fraser University, Lee recently achieved all-American honours for the second year in a row while competing for the Clan at the NCAA Division II nationals in Birmingham, Alabama in March. Lee, a backstroke/butterfly specialist, currently holds one individual school record, and is a member of six record-breaking SFU relay teams.

Otters’ president Josée Warren said the club is coming off a terrific winter maintenance season that saw over 50 young swimmers practice and improve upon their strokes through the months of November to February. Many of those same swimmers will constitute the 40 or so expected returnees from last year’s summer swim program.

“We’d love to welcome even more swimmers this summer,” said Warren. “We accept applicants from five years right up to adult. The only entry restriction is that the individual must be able to successfully swim 25 metres (one length of the Nicola Valley pool).”

Warren went on to add that young swimmers do not have to compete if they don’t want to, or can compete as little or as often as they desire.

“Every year, we have some children that just swim recreationally, and work on improving their skills,” she said. “We also have a few that only enter the Merritt meet and that’s it, which is fine, too.”

When it comes to adult swimmers, however, Warren said the condition is that they must compete for the club. “We’re not an adult fitness program, unfortunately.”

All swimmers are grouped by skill rather than by age, Warren explained, so that instruction and coaching can be customized to each group’s ability level. Assisting Lee again this coming season with the coaching of the younger swimmers will be Jensen Cavaliere, a senior student at Merritt Secondary School and a long-time member of the Otters club.

Registration for returning Otters will be on April 5 and 10, from 5 to 7 p.m. in the foyer of the aquatic centre. New swimmers may register on May 3 and 4, between 3:30 and 5:30 p.m., also in the pool foyer.

“We’re asking new swimmers to please bring their bathing suit to registration,” said Warren. “This year, we’re going to do a quick assessment as part of registration, so that we can best place the individual in the appropriate group for instruction and training.”

While schools are still in session in May and June, nearly all practices will be in the afternoons or early evenings from Monday to Thursday. A few of the older and more advanced swimmers will have some morning practices. Once school is out, more practices will be scheduled for the mornings.

It’s time to make a splash!