Guam swimmer Benjamin Schulte was riding a high after producing a personal record, shaving half a second, in the 50-meter breaststroke en route to a silver finish on the podium, the first swimming medal at the 2019 Pacific Games in Apia, Samoa.
"I can't tell you how happy I am right now!" Schulte said, whose time was also good enough to set a new Guam National Record. According to coach Don San Agustin, Schulte also broke his own Guam National Record, which was set in Fiji at the 2016 Oceania Championships.
In yesterday's meet, there some initial confusion because Schulte thought he had finished sixth, forgetting he was in lane six. When the leaderboard reordered to show the finish, Schulte said, "I saw my name was second from the top and I was in shock."
Schulte said his best time was a 29.26, which he set in Oceania in 2016.
"I went a 28.75 tonight," Schulte said. "A half-second PR is huge, especially for a sprint event, and I'm so excited about it!"
With the silver, Schulte now has six PG medals – silver in New Caledonia, 2011; two gold, one silver, one bronze at Papua New Guinea in 2015 and silver in Samoa – to add to his two Oceania medals.
"I actually wasn't thinking about the race, my time or the potential for a podium finish," Schulte said, adding he's adjusted his thinking and pre-race routine to suit the new optimism. "I like putting myself in a good mood before I race, so I can actually enjoy swimming fast rather than letting external pressures take over."
Schulte, who admits he struggled with race pressure throughout his career, credits his dad, Greg, for helping him adjust his mindset in competition.
The switch to positivity, fun and not worrying about placing has been a big shift these games, Benjamin Schulte said, adding he had let the competitions drive him, rather than his love for swimming.
"(My dad) was like 'you know what, Benji, just go out and have fun. Forget about everything else. Don't even think about trying to do a PR,'" Schulte said. "I really internalized that."
"Today was a good day," said coach Don San Agustin on his athletes' performances in the pool. Jagger Stephens set a personal record after qualifying for the 200-meter freestyle. Swimmers Mark Imazu and Sebastian Castro also set PRs, shaving four seconds and 10 seconds, respectively, in the morning preliminaries.
All of the swimmers are competing today in different events, and Schulte said the sky is the limit for the team.
"Hopefully, the swim team can pull in another couple medals for Guam before the meet is over," he said. "I have high hopes for this group!."
Another Guam record fell thanks to the hard work of the island's weightlifters.
Dave Bautista, competing in the 73-kilogram weight division, set a Guam record in the clean and jerk, lifting 135kg to end the games on a high note for the contingent.
"It was a very successful medal tally for Guam weightlifting team in the Pacific Games in Samoa," said Guam coach Edgar Molinos.
In the final day of competition, Bautista faced nerves, which overpowered his performance in the snatch, said Molinos, adding Bautista regrouped to get it back in the clean and jerk.
The team has led the way in medals, picking up seven medals at the Pacific Games – five silver and two bronze. The PG competition also served as the Oceania Weightlifting Championships with the island picking up two gold medals and two silver medals to bring their total tally to 11 medals over the competition.
Incoming John F. Kennedy High School senior Dayamaya Calma (49kg) walked away with the six medals – an impressive haul in her Pacific Games debut. She earned silver in the snatch, bronze in the clean and jerk and silver in the overall division. She also earned two gold medals and one silver in the Oceania championships.
Jacinta Sumagaysay walked away with three silver medals in the Pacific Games and an Oceania silver to complete her performance.
Eighteen-year-old Dayalani Calma pushed through a bad lift in the snatch, firing back for the clean and jerk at 63kg to bring bronze. She added another Oceania bronze to her tally.
The eldest Calma – 23-year-old Dayanara (59kg) – broke the Guam record with a 70kg lift to qualify for the 2019 World Weightlifting Championships, slated for September in Pattaya, Thailand.
The final female weightlifter wrapped her PG experience, lifting 143kg, which was good enough for the scoreboard, said Molinos.
"I couldn't be more proud and happy of what my athletes have accomplished during this Pacific Games," Molinos said. "All our grueling workouts and countless hours we all put in, the dedication, trust of the program and the respect have paid off but we're not stopping there and the sky is the limit for us."
And, like any coach, Molinos said the gym is their next stop after PG.
"Now, back to Guam and start our training sessions to get ready for the next competition," he said.
Tennis downed American Samoa 2-1 to take home its first team victory. Camden Camacho performed a clinic against his American Samoan opponent, winning 6-0, 3-0 to set the pace for Team Guam. Daniel Llarenas added another textbook victory, earning the 6-1, 6-4 victory to claim the first win. Duo Derek Okuhama and Mason Caldwell dropped their set 5-7, 2-6.
"We knew American Samoa was going to be a challenge, because they beat Tonga yesterday (top seed), so we were ready to battle," said Llarenas.
Okuhama was pragmatic about the loss, adding the key is consistency, something he and his partner struggled with against American Samoa.
"I'm very happy that Camden and Danny were able to pull off two big wins in singles and help us get the win overall," said Okuhama. "Now, it's time for us to focus on our individual events and I feel ready for my upcoming matches."
Having played three event matches has helped ease the way for individuals, Okuhama said, adding he's adjusted a little better to the playing conditions, which will help in later matches.
"Danny and I played two tough doubles matches," said Camacho. "We went to three sets for both and fought really hard, but came up short ... Next week, we will all fight our hardest and hope to do well."
According to coach Michelle Pang, yesterday was the last day of pool play for teams, however, they won't know their standings till this weekend, which sets up play for Monday. Today, Pang said, starts pool play for the singles division.
• Men's basketball
The men's basketball team demolished Tonga, putting on a basketball clinic 101-65 in their gold-medal defense.
Guam systematically dismantled the Tonga defense with deadly accuracy. Takumi Simon rained seven of 13 from the 3-point line to finish with 30 points. JP Cruz added his own sharpshooting display, pouring in six treys to finish with 23 points in the rout.
"We were able to get in a shooting rhythm and, eventually, make them pay for playing zone the entire game," said head coach EJ Calvo. "Our defense continued to get better and shooters stepped up today and that helped us take care of business."
Calvo said the focus shifts to New Caledonia on Saturday.
"Our goal is to secure the top seed going into semifinals," he said.
• Women's basketball
The women's basketball team pushed back against a talented American Samoa squad in pool play action yesterday, dropping a hotly contested match, 85-76.
Shooting 16 of 28 from the free throw line and a dismal 10.5 percent at two of 19 didn't help the Guam squad, who staged a late comeback to throw a wrench at American Samoa.
"We missed too many free throws," said head coach Paul Pineda. "We cut it (the lead) down to six points, (but) just couldn't close the gap."
Guam's Destiny Castro paved the way, notching a double double with 27 points and 12 boards in the loss. Big man Mia San Nicolas poured in 18 points and eight boards. Joylyn Pangilinan was the third leading scorer with 11 points to end the day.
With the loss, the Guam women fall to 1-1 with a do-or-die game Saturday against Tahiti. A win lifts them to the medal rounds, said Pineda.
Going in, Pineda said, he expected a tough match with American Samoa fielding a WNBA player (Jazmin Davis), a professional basketball player from England (Sarah Toeaina) and several collegiate Division I players from Brigham Young University and University of Hawaii.
Knowing American Samoa's basketball roster's pedigree might have put Guam at a disadvantage, Pineda said.
"I ... thought we gave them too much respect," said Pineda. "After the half time, we made some adjustments, but it came down to the women starting to be more aggressive."
After watching the games, Pineda said he believes American Samoa is one of the top two among the women's teams, and for Guam to play close to that level is a big boost in morale for the team.
"We have to win Saturday," he said. "All I can ask, as a coach, is they give me great effort and ... we did that in the second half. (I am) very proud of the effort."
Moving forward, Guam needs to clean up miscues on defense, limit turnovers and improve their free throw percentage, he said.
"We can beat them," Team Guam's Derin Stinnett said, thanking island fans for their support. "It's so motivating to know that everyone is rooting for us. We are playing for everyone back home and (we) want this so badly for Guam."
The men's volleyball team lost their opener against the host team Samoa in three sets. Information was unavailable as of press time.