March 2023

Athlete of the Month

Local swimmer Oliver Santana of Soquel High School is only a sophomore, but has already proved himself to be one of Santa Cruz county’s most promising young athletes at age 16.

Oliver’s parents encouraged him to take swimming lessons as a child to grow familiar with the nearby ocean. This is where his love for swimming collided with an innate desire to compete and improve.

“I always just loved the water,” said Santana. “I like doing a little more every time.” And improve he has; as Santana has improved his times nearly every time he competes. Not only is he racing against other swimmers from the area, but additionally against himself every time he has swam before.

“I do better on the longer distances because there are more walls,” said Santana. This was evident in the PC MAC Senior Open when Oliver placed 14th overall in the 100 meter breaststroke, compared to second place in the 200 meter breaststroke.

Of all the events Santana participates in, breaststroke is his most dominant and favorite. It requires a great deal of strength and persistence to be a competitive swimmer, and he has been working on every facet of his game to be the best and fastest version of himself as possible.

Santana explained how. “It’s a lot of strength training, it’s a lot of working on technique to try to perfect my stroke and adjust individual details.”

As a local kid from Santa Cruz County, Oliver has already begun to make a name for himself in the global swimming community. He made his international debut in 2022 in Sweden, where he showcased his speed to become the Swedish age group 200 meter breaststroke national champion. Not only was the trip to Europe an incredible experience and one he hopes to duplicate, but the difference in culture was unlike anything he’s ever seen.

“It was a lot of fun,” said Santana. “I have family over there so I joined up with a team and it was really interesting to get immersed with that.” As it happens, Oliver speaks fluent Swedish so his ability to experience the area wasn’t hindered by linguistics. As it is only his sophomore year, he has another offseason to get even faster followed by two more years for Soquel.

In that time, Santana has made up his mind about where he wants to be in his swimming career, and has set some big goals for himself.

“This year I want to qualify for state,” he said. “Eventually I hope to win state and go to a division one school for college.”

One way Santana has tirelessly worked to make his dreams a reality is through club swimming. He has competed for Quicksilver swimming, based in San Jose but practices in Soquel.

Oliver believes that club is more fun and slightly less serious than school meets, and allows him to swim with even more of his friends from around the area. He really enjoys the atmosphere and team culture of Soquel as well, partially because his team coach is also his club coach.

Oliver’s favorite memory of high school swimming so far in his early career was last year’s CCS finals. While he was recently sick which slowed down his times, he hopes to make that time up this year.

Something that many people don’t know about Oliver is that his parents are the owners of famed local Mexican restaurant Manuel’s in Aptos. “It’s really interesting, people come up to me and be like, I didn’t know your parents own Manuel’s.” With Santana’s sophomore season wrapping up, one thing’s for certain: he will continue to bring his A-game every time he steps into the water.

Quinn Southall is a journalism student at Cabrillo College and writes for the Watsonville Pajaronian.

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