A swimming program in the Rio Grande Valley is experiencing a passing of the torch.
The McAllen Swim Club will lose recent McAllen Memorial High graduate and star aquatic product Cooper Gates as he heads off to San Antonio for college but is looking forward to what up-and-coming underclassmen Gabby Gonzalez and Alex Avila have to offer in the years to come.
Cooper Gates, bigger and better things await
MSC program director/masters head coach Hector Becerra touted Gates as someone who “really kind of stood out for us” among the swimmers who just graduated from high school.
“We’re very proud of Cooper for his achievements in and out of the pool,” Becerra told Texas Scorecard.
A University of the Incarnate Word commit who will study engineering and swim at the NCAA Division I level, Gates built a stellar academic and athletic career at McAllen Memorial. He served as team captain for the Mustangs in his senior year, garnering District and Regional MVP honors in addition to qualifying for four events at state.
Gates graduated in the top 3 percent in his class, received a Presidential Academic scholarship, and was a member of the National Honor Society.
In 2018, he represented MSC at the Speedo Long Course Sectional Championships.
Becerra proudly recalled an instance in which Gates overcame a rough patch at the start of his senior year.
“He wasn’t as focused as he had been in the past, but we talked to him, we kind of reevaluated his goals,” Becerra explained. “And we talked to his parents … he really took it upon himself and really moved forward with sticking to what his goals were and overcoming that sense of lack of motivation and not finding himself. He’s the kind of person that really kind of looked at all those things that were barriers and really overcame them. He really did exceptionally well in comparison to how he started. To have him finish the way he did was a huge, huge, huge accomplishment not just for him but for us as well. To see him shine through all of it was really motivating.”
According to Becerra, Gates is a natural leader who “gets in the water, knows what he has to do, [and] gets the job done.”
“He’s a very good role model not just for all of the kids that are in his lane and in his crew but also the kids that are younger that are in development groups … we use him as a role model for not just technique but also his approach to his training,” Becerra said.
In addition to wishing Gates success, Becerra hopes his protégé would visit occasionally and impart advice to those who come after him in MSC.
Gabby Gonzalez, on the record
To label the 14-year-old Gonzalez a “freshman phenom” is an understatement. The Mission Sharyland High sophomore-to-be has amassed a bevy of accolades for the Rattlers and MSC before being old enough to register for a learner’s permit.
“She’s broken multiple records already as a freshman at Sharyland High School,” Becerra said. “Sharyland is very happy that they have her because she is who is. She’s more of silent, lead-by-example type of person. She’s not really vocal. She’s somebody who says a lot by doing a lot … She gets in the water, she works hard, and sees the fruits of her labor because of the effort she puts in.”
Most notable among the several highlights on Gonzalez’s impressive, ever-growing résumé: MSC MVP 2019 – 13-14 age group, Sharyland Swimmer of the Year, and All-Valley Swimmer of the Year for District 31-5A. She is Sharyland’s record holder in the 200 freestyle, 100 freestyle, 400 freestyle relay, 200 freestyle relay.
Like Gates, Gonzalez herself underwent some adversity yet successfully overcame. According to Becerra, the turning point for her occurred last year — before she enrolled at Sharyland — at a meet in New Orleans in which MSC competed.
“It was a meet that turned Gabby around … and at that meet, she had a really, really good performance,” he said. “And since then, [it] turned everything for her on the training side so much so that her latest achievement aside from the records that she set at Sharyland, she was selected by USA Swimming in our region to attend a diversity camp where only 50 swimmers in the region were selected. And Gabby was one of them. MSC never had anyone attend that particular diversity camp.”
A year removed from middle school, Gonzalez assists swimmers in that age group. She is also a member of the Sharyland Folklorico Club.
Alex Avila, ‘one to watch’
Becerra said that Avila, 16, will make the transition from homeschool to public school. He will attend McAllen High and join the Bulldogs swimming program.
While Avila does not have as much accolades as his teammates Gates and Gonzalez, he has MSC’s 2019 Swimmer of the Year honor to build upon.
“His accolades are just kind of starting to come around,” said Becerra. “He’s going to be one to watch for us.”
The coach added that Avila started out as “a very, very shy [guy].”
“In these past two years, [he has] really grown out of his shell,” said Becerra. “He has taken it upon himself to really go above and beyond his training, not just in the pool but outside of the pool as well.”
Avila also competed in the New Orleans meet. As of this writing, he is in Florida competing with a team there to prepare for the high school level.
“This young man is tough as nails,” said Becerra. “He asks for more. He is up for the challenge. He wants to compete. He wants to be better.”