Kasey Karkoska enjoys the camaraderie on the Laguna Beach High girls' swimming team.
The squad consists mostly of girls who are primarily water polo players. Karkoska, a senior, and Ella Judd, a sophomore, are the notable exceptions who both swim club for Irvine Novaquatics.
Karkoska and Judd train with their club team, showing up to be with the high school team on meet days only. Still, there doesn't appear to be a rift between the two factions.
"Obviously, swimming is not as important to them, but it's still fun to be a leader on that team," Karkoska said. "It just reminds me how swimming is supposed to be a fun thing. It's not about going the fastest time all the time; it's about surrounding yourself with a good group of people. I love our team. They definitely keep me in check when I get upset or something after a race."
Karkoska, who said she has a 4.45 weighted grade-point average, is smart enough to understand the power of teamwork. It's something she's excited to experience next year as well, when she will swim at Columbia University. In terms of teams in the Orange Coast League, none have been as good as Laguna Beach.
The Breakers, who are moving to the Sunset League next season, easily won their 11th straight Orange Coast League title last week. Karkoska played a big role, setting a meet record in the 100-yard butterfly (56.52 seconds) before winning the 100 freestyle (53.23). She also was on both of Laguna Beach's winning freestyle relays.
It was the last league finals in a high school swim career that will end Saturday as Karkoska competes in the CIF Southern Section Division 2 finals at Riverside City College. She has qualified for the championship finals in both of her individual events. She touched third in the butterfly on Friday at the preliminaries, in 55.52. Karkoska also qualified fourth in the backstroke, in 56.13.
Karkoska said earlier in the week that she was excited to swim in her last CIF finals. This will be it for high school swimming, as she said she doesn't plan to swim at next week's CIF State Championships in Clovis like she did last year.
"I don't have as much pressure," she said. "I'm more excited to just swim and race. Most of these people, it's the last time I'll swim against them, so it's kind of a bittersweet thing that it's ending and we're going off to different places."
Karkoska is the most decorated female swimmer in the history of the Breakers' program. She owns individual school records in the 100 free (51.84), 200 individual medley (2:05.25), breaststroke (1:09.00), backstroke (55.66) and butterfly (55.23), and is part of all three relay records as well. Karkoska, Judd, Kyla Whitelock and Molly Renner swam a 1:36.58 in the 200 free relay Friday at the Division 2 preliminaries, qualifying third and besting the previous record from 2009.
What impresses 10th-year coach Kari Damato isn't just the record-setting times, but also Karkoska's attitude.
"She knows exactly what she needs to do, how fast she needs to go, what her splits should be," Damato said. "She's very technical, and that's what makes her great, but it's nice to see her be able to have fun and just shine. Swimming is so competitive, and sometimes you can go a few tenths [of a second] slower than someone else and feel so bad about yourself. It's really cool to have her shine here at the high school."
Karkoska said she sprained her right knee in early April, but she has persevered to make it to the end of her final high school season. She's come a long way since she started swimming at age 5. Back then, it was more about following in the footsteps of her older brother, Cameron Karkoska, who also swam at Laguna Beach before graduating in 2016 and now competes for Louisiana State University.
Kasey Karkoska will again be with her high school teammates one last time on Saturday.
"It's been good for everyone," Damato said of Karkoska's presence on the team. "You'll see Kasey trying to help someone with a relay start, or telling a swimmer something that maybe a coach has told that water polo athlete over and over. Coming from a peer, sometimes it goes a lot further. And even though high school season is fun, Kasey and other club swimmers in the past still take it seriously. I think it's a good balance for everybody."
Born: June 17, 2000
Hometown: Laguna Beach
Height: 5 feet 10
Coach: Kari Damato
Favorite food: Pasta
Favorite movie: "The Notebook"
Favorite athletic moment: Getting a Winter Junior Nationals cut in the 100-yard backstroke in her first meet back after suffering an elbow injury in 2015.
Week in review: Karkoska won the 100-yard butterfly and 100 freestyle, helping Laguna Beach's girls win the Orange Coast League title on May 3. She was also on both winning freestyle relays.