Holy Cross swim coach Dale Turner said traveling home after November’s state championship meet in Sulphur was “the longest ride of my life.”

Swimmers who were on the bus with him that day are just tired of hearing about any of it.

But until the Holy Cross swimmers compete again in the Division II State Championship this November, they’ll have something of a bitter taste in their mouths. After all, it’s not often that you lose a state title by a half-point and then have a 12-month wait to stew on the outcome.

The Tigers scored 346.5 points in last year’s Division II meet, which was exactly a half-point shy of state champ Ruston. Holy Cross had a chance to win, but finished third to Ruston’s second in the 400-yard freestyle relay — the final event of the competition. A disqualification in an earlier individual event proved untimely, as well.

A good portion of last year’s Holy Cross team returns in 2014, however, with perhaps a bit of redemption on their minds. The addition of two key eighth-graders means the Tigers should be back in the title hunt when they return to Sulphur in a month and a half.

Last year’s final result motivates this year’s team.

“Water boils at 100 degrees Celsius, not 99 degrees Celsius,” Turner said. “One point makes the difference. To lose by a half point (was hard.) We’ve talked about it. Every practice, every stretch, it matters. Are you wasting 1/100th of a second right there? It all counts.”

Six seniors were lost to graduation, including several who were vital contributors to team relays. Among the chief returning swimmers are junior Pedro Rivera (third in the 100-yard breast; sixth in 200 free;) and junior Paxton Deforest (who tied for first in the 100 back; and was sixth in the 200 IM.) They are joined by seniors Lance Relle and Reece Reinbolt (both who placed in the 100-yard back at state last year.) The quartet combined to finish second in the 200-yard medley relay in 2013, as well.

Casey Nee, a junior, finished third in the 500 free at state. He’s part of the Tigers’ solid nucleus.

Rivera said he thinks of last year’s state meet often, but said there was no reason for the Tigers to hang their collective heads.

“In all honesty, a lot of guys swam personal bests,” he said. “I’m not sure we had anything to be sad about.”

Deforest said he too would like to put last year in the rearview.

“Everyone keeps mentioning it,” he said. “Last year I didn’t know what I was capable of, and I ended up surprising myself. Now I know what’s possible. I have higher expectations for myself.”

Rivera’s younger brother, Antonio, said he looks to older Holy Cross swimmers for guidance. He is specializing in distance events, and is one of two eighth-graders Turner is counting on in the warm-up meets and at state. Lane Coleman is another.

“I feel a little bit of pressure,” the younger Rivera said. “A lot of seniors left last year, so we really need to step it up.”

Early results have been promising, with Holy Cross’ times dropping throughout the Greater New Orleans Metro Swim League season. Turner said he expects big things out of this year’s team; along the same lines as his teams that have won two states titles and been runners-up twice since he arrived at Holy Cross less than a decade ago.

Pedro Rivera agreed, and said he’d like nothing more than to claim a team title at this year’s Division II meet.

“I want to go 1 minute flat in the breaststroke,” he said. “And as for a team goal, we couldn’t get any closer to first place than we did last year. So, let’s try for first place there too.”