Mission Marlins ‘dominate’ provincial championships, becoming first-ever Fraser Valley club to win

Allison McCormick moments before winning gold in the Division 1 girls 50-meter butterfly. Copper Wire ImagesAllison McCormick moments before winning gold in the Division 1 girls 50-meter butterfly. Copper Wire Images
Sienna Saunders ahead of her gold-medal win in the Division 5 100-metre freestyle race. Copper Wire ImagesSienna Saunders ahead of her gold-medal win in the Division 5 100-metre freestyle race. Copper Wire Images
Jack Smith after winning goal in the Division 3 Boys regional relay. Copper Wire ImagesJack Smith after winning goal in the Division 3 Boys regional relay. Copper Wire Images
Isaac Janes (left) prepares to launch into the pool. Copper Wire ImagesIsaac Janes (left) prepares to launch into the pool. Copper Wire Images
Claire Smith competing in the Division 1 girls 50 meter butterfly. Copper Wire ImagesClaire Smith competing in the Division 1 girls 50 meter butterfly. Copper Wire Images

The Mission Marlins dominated the BC Summer Swimming Association’s (BCSSA) 2022 Provincial Championships, out-medalling clubs twice their size to become the first-ever Fraser Valley club to win.

Not only did the local club win the most points per swimmer, they also won the most overall points at the six-day event held in Kamloops from Aug. 15 to 21.

It’s a feat unheard of for a community the size of Mission, said Marlins VP Mitch McCormick.

“It’s nothing short of miraculous,” McCormick said. “We weren’t just winning, we were dominating … It got to the point where people around the region were calling us the Mission Yankees.”

Every summer the BCSSA provincials are held in the weeks following regional championships. There are eight regions in B.C., each with five to eight individual clubs. In order to qualify for individual races at provincials, athletes have to place in the top three for any type of stroke.

The Marlins, a club of about 110 members, were able to send 43 athletes to the provincial championships, putting their numbers on par with the larger clubs which have traditionally dominated the event, according to McCormick.

For instance, the Burnaby Barracudas have over 300 members, the Coquitlam Sharks have over 250 and Abbotsford Whalers have 180; those clubs sent 20, 61 and 24 athletes to provincials, respectively.

McCormick said after the first day of the event, it was clear the Marlins could accomplish heights they’d never reached in their six-decade history.

“After day one, Mission – out of a potential 54 medals – had already won 24 of them,” he said.

“We’ve been on a trajectory now for a couple of years where we’ve been a dominant force regionally, but never in the history of the club have been such a force on the provincial stage.”

Mission’s club won regional championships in 2018, 2019, and again this year, but their best finish at provincials has been sixth place.

The Marlins head coach, 20-year-old Haley Klenk, said the performances were “unbelievable” to watch.

“I could see it all happening,” she said. “We were in every final, from Division 1 to Division 8. Absolutely dominating on the podium at almost every single event.”

A standout race for Klenk was Sienna Saunders’ come-from-behind gold medal for the Division 5 100-metre freestyle race, where she caught the lead after the 75-metre mark to win by less than a tenth of a second.

Other highlights were the Division 1 girls 200-metre relay, in which the all-Mission team won with a 22-second lead over the silver medalists.

McCormick described the success this year as a “perfect storm” of talent, coaching, and dedicated families.

He said their club succeeded in keeping their athletes active and training during COVID, while other clubs lost some of their senior swimmers after two seasons of no competitions.

“Our coaches and our families, we just never left,” McCormick said.

“When you go away from the sport, one of the biggest things you run the risk of losing is your culture and your identity as a club.”

And Mission has always had a “swimming culture” allowing it to punch above its weight, McCormick said, noting it is the only B.C. summer swim club to produce two Olympic medalists.

“The strength of the club is based on family tradition. My children are third generation Mission Marlin swimmers,” McCormick said. “We are just one example of families who return to the program as they get older.

The team’s coaches, Klenk, Logan Sparks and Emily Mackinnon, “were nothing short of brilliant this year,” McCormick said.

Klenk (also McCormick’s cousin) currently swims for the University of Toronto. It was her first year coaching the club.

“I started with the Mission Marlins, so coming back and being able to see all the talent from such a small town was quite wild for me,” she said. “There’s always been talent from Mission, but the amount we had this year was unreal.”

The coaches brought in some lessons from their varsity sports careers, and spent a lot of time and research writing appropriate training sets, but Klenk gives most of the credit to the athletes.

“We have kids who are really, really capable of stepping up to the challenge,” she said. “They were hungry for it.”

Who wins the provincial swim meet is always determined by two awards: the club that accumulates the most points, and the club that wins the most points per swimmer, McCormick said.

He said the latter award was created specifically for the smaller clubs, who cannot field as many swimmers.

The Mission Marlins earned a combined total of 2,066 points by the end of the competition, edging out the Coquitlam Sharks with 1,838.50 points, and the third place White Rock Amateur Swim Association with 1,452 points.

They had a score of 48.05 points per athlete; the second highest club was the Sidney Piranhas with 43.73 points per athlete, followed by the Hope River Monsters with 34.60.

McCormick and Klenk both said the latter score is the true indicator of the best club.

“Winning is one thing, but having won points per swimmer, that’s a whole other deal because it’s not about having the biggest team, it’s about having the best team,” Klenk said.

MissionSwimming