A week earlier at the Avocado West Swimming & Diving meet, La Costa Canyon Coach Patty Mackle said, “this could be the year,” alluding to last Saturday’s CIF Division II Swimming and Diving Championships at Del Norte High School and the chances that her girls’ team could finally land the school’s first CIF championship banner.
The Mavericks had been close before, including six different runner-up finishes (3 girls/3 boys), the most recent being the girls’ second place effort one year ago. But this time, Mackle had elite talent, experience and the depth to rule the relays. She’d done the math and felt confident going into Wednesday’s CIF prelims. Then the fickle winds of her sport began to blow. LCC’s 200 freestyle relay team was disqualified in its heat, meaning there would be no scoring in a race where the point values were doubled.
“I got real nervous after that,” said Mackle. “There were a few sleepless nights between then and today, but we got it done, finally.”
It was close, but the La Costa girls, winning six individual events and two relays, vanquished defending champion Cathedral Catholic, 347-327. Between them, the top two teams placed first in all 11 swimming events with only a diving victory by La Jolla’s McKenna Sammons keeping the North County duo from making it a clean sweep.
In the end, it came down to LCC’s big guns doing what they do best—winning. Seniors Rachel Rhee and Tegan Preston both completed career sweeps in their specialties and gifted sophomore Noelle Harvey joined her teammates in securing multiple event triumphs.
The big three, combining with senior Erin Taggart, got the day off to an auspicious start, posting a CIF all-divisions record of 1:44.78 while hitting the wall first in the 200 medley relay (the mark was broken later that day by Torrey Pines in the D-I portion of the meet).
The UCLA-bound Rhee then prevailed in two of the first three individual races, winning the 200 freestyle (1:47.43) by more than three seconds over Cathedral Catholic’s talented junior Greta Fanta, and the 50 freestyle where she dominated the field in a section record 23.03. It was her fourth straight CIF win in both.
Asked about her always unflappable appearance in such a high stakes environment, Rhee said, “I’m glad that I hide it really well. I remind myself that I do this all the time. I try to look at it more as having fun than competition.”
Sandwiched between Rhee’s successes, Preston had some fun of her own, busting out a 2:03.27 to grab the top spot for the third consecutive year in the 200 individual medley. She came back about an hour later to get her fourth CIF gold in her specialty, the 100 breaststroke, owning the final 25 yards to post a 1:02.88.
“I’ve been really trying to crack that 1:03 for a while,” smiled Preston moments later. “Wow, I knew I could do it. It’s just confidence—at the end its always important to charge and hit the wall first.”
When probed for her thoughts on the relative importance of her individual events and a still-in-doubt team title, Preston’s answer was an immediate, “why can’t we have both—that would be pretty cool.”
And that’s how it turned out. The solid, but still-developing Harvey helped make sure of that, delivering blue ribbon swims in both the 100 freestyle (51.01) and 100 backstroke (56.47). She also linked up with Rhee, senior Bella Bram and freshman Ava Delaney to cap the meet off with a win in the 400 freestyle relay blazing to a section record of 3:29.14.
Mackle lauded her stars’ ability to perform under pressure. “When you know it’s going to be a close team race and you’re a swimmer seeded first in your event, you can’t move up, point-wise, so it becomes very important that they swim to their seeding,” said Mackle. “Rachel and Tegan have always done so well at CIF, they’re so confident—and Noelle was just like them today. We had so many personal bests across the board, it was a true team effort.”
For second place Cathedral Catholic, Fanta went wire-to-wire in the 500 freestyle (4:52.12) and sophomore Kathryn Lundh, last year’s runner-up, beat Escondido Charter’s Tiffany Shields by one-one hundredth of a second to seize the 100 butterfly.
“Tiffany is a great opponent to race and I knew she was there but didn’t know it was that close until afterwards,” said Lundh. “I was a little stiff in my earlier race and was just trying to stay relaxed.
“I was happy with the win. I wish the team could have won but we tried really hard and did really well in the relays (top three in all three).” Like their female counterparts, the Cathedral Catholic boys placed second Saturday, behind The Bishop’s School, with La Costa Canyon winding up sixth.
Lundh’s 100 butterfly running mate on the boys’ side, junior Yuma Dugas matched her finish, recording a 49.79, but the male standout for the Dons was senior Josh He. Both were part of CC’s winning 200 medley relay foursome and He, who will be swimming at UC San Diego next fall, defended both his 200 individual medley (1:51.97) and 100 breaststroke (56.40) crowns earned in 2018. For the second straight year, Dugas was second to He in the 200 IM.
Cathedral Head Coach Colette Reid was upbeat about both of her teams following the meet. “I’m super excited,” she said. “We came in here with a young group and it was nice to see that we have so many up-and-coming swimmers.
“It was so good to have Josh kind of finalize his senior year and go out with a bang. He’s a hard worker, super committed and super dedicated. He loves to swim and loves to swim for Cathedral Catholic.”
Also shining in the boys’ division was LCC junior Philip Pozdnyakov. After snaring silver medal honors in the 100 freestyle (45.57), he finished on top of the podium, clocking 51.06, in the 100 backstroke. Surprisingly, he appeared more energized by his runner-up race in the freestyle than beating the entire field in the backstroke.
“I thought I had it and felt pretty confident in the backstroke because I had the best seed time by a lot,” explained Pozdnyakov. “In the 100 free, that was my best time by nearly a second so I was pretty excited.
“I’m talking with colleges about swimming and they seem to care more about times than winning, so the times are pretty important now.”
Many of the meet’s best swimmers will be traveling to Clovis this weekend for the CIF’s California State Championships. Prelims will be Friday with finals on Saturday.