The article below originally appeared in the San Mateo Daily Journal and is being reprinted with permission.

In describing the upcoming Coast Conference swimming championship, College of San Mateo head coach Randy Wright said, “it’s going to be a dogfight.”

Well, perhaps it’s a good thing he’s bringing a pack of Bulldogs to the meet.

The CSM women embark on what they hope will be a repetition of last year’s triumphant dismantling of the conference competition when they travel to West Valley College starting Thursday for the Coast championships.

“We’re going to try and win a conference title,” Wright said. “That’s why we’re in the sport. You sit down at the beginning of the season and you figure what you need to do to get the job done. Albeit, we did lose All-Americans and those are very difficult to replace. But we do have very solid, high-end swimmers and good depth on the team.”

Swimmers don’t come any more high-end than CSM’s Miya Oto, who will most likely duplicate, if not surpass, her All-American effort of last year. It’s behind Oto the Bulldogs didn’t just win conference last year, they dominated it.

But according to Wright, that won’t be the case in 2013. In fact, it should be quite the opposite.

“The elimination rounds in the morning are going to be brutal,” he said. “There will a lot of good swimmers that are not going to make the top 16. And if you don’t make the top 16, you don’t score points. So, when it comes to winning, you may have 17 swimmers, but if only 10 are scoring points, there is a loss of depth to your team. The difference this year is we lack that ‘middle of the road’ firepower.”

Oto, along with Kelsey Mercado and Rachel Rosas, are expected to have solid meets. But the concern starts after Rosas. In the past, CSM has racked up those crucial points from sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-place finishes. And that luxury is one the Bulldogs won’t have this time around.

“We’re going to get hurt in terms of total team points,” Wright said. “I think this year it’s very competitive. It’s very exciting because there are four or five teams that have a chance to win conference.

“The running joke is, the all-Americans are the general and the rest of the team is the infantry. Well, the generals can’t win the war without the infantry and the infantry can’t win without the generals.”

The infantry consists of a swimmer like Jasmine Zaldivar, who needs to have the meet of her life if the Bulldogs expect to contend for the title. She’ll be crucial in the relays. In the past two years, CSM has won (Wright called it “dominated”) the relays — winning nine of 10. This year, Wright said his women’s team needs at least two if they have any aspirations of a team title.

“We have not had a race this year when all four girls have brought the thunder — where they’ve all gone out and had a great swim,” Wright said. “On the one side, now is the time to go. Surprise, surprise, look where we’re at. We’re not that far off from the relays.

“This year, the morning session is going to be a dogfight,” Wright said. “It’s going to be brutal. They’re going to have to swim lights out to get the job done and stay in it. You just have they have the stamina to not just advance, but move up by the afternoon.”

But it doesn’t hurt to have a swimmer like Oto leading your charge.

Wright said this year is unique for his superstar considering that Oto has higher goals than just a conference title — the All-American is aiming for the podium at state.

“At the end of the day, there is no one in this conference that beats Miya Oto,” Wright said. “Top swimmers in the state don’t have bad days. For all intent and purposes, she’ll probably be the swimmer of the meet.”

Oto is favored by .75 seconds in the 50 meter freestyle, by three seconds in the 100 and her 1:56 in the 200 is seven seconds better than number two this season.

“My team is definitely ready to go,” Wright said. “They swim their best when it counts the most, so there’s a definite expectation that that’s going to be consistent with years past. It’s just, there’s a lot of good swimmers out there.”

Following Erin Harris’ first-in-conference performance at the diving championships, the Bulldogs head into Thursday’s competition with 40 points in their back pocket already.