Newport Harbor High junior Ayla Spitz is one of the top swimmers in the CIF Southern Section, and she's versatile.
Still, Spitz has not swam the 500-yard freestyle much for the Sailors in her three years with the program. Of course, that never meant that she wouldn't excel in that race.
"At the Huntington [Beach] meet, when she posted a 4:52, that was tops in the county for a long time," Newport Harbor coach Brian Melstrom said. "I told [assistant coach] Diggy [Riley], 'I want Ayla to do the 500 [at CIF]. I think she can go win that event.' She arguably could win any event I put her in. I threw it out to her a few weeks back, 'I want to see you do the 500.' It was kind of jokingly, but I think I planted the seed a little bit."
Spitz opted to swim the 200 and 500. She qualified first in both events at the CIF Southern Section Division 1 preliminaries on Thursday.
Spitz will be in Saturday's section finals at Riverside City College. The meet starts at 4 p.m.
Spitz is switching up her events from last year, when she was the Division 1 champion in the 100 free and finished third in the backstroke. Her preliminaries times were 1 minute 46.58 seconds in the 200, and 4:48.03 in the 500.
A fast swim on Saturday and Spitz could approach the school record in the 500 free, a 4:45.41 by Hayley Peirsol in 2002.
"I think she's going to go a 4:41, but that might be saying a lot," Melstrom said. "That's my prediction. I just think when it comes down to it and the race is on, she's just got that mentality where she will do anything and everything to win … She is going to be pushed. It should be super-fun."
Santa Margarita aims for its fifth straight Division 1 title. Newport Harbor is bringing just four swimmers to the CIF finals, yet Melstrom said he thinks that might be good enough for a top-three finish.
Ayla Spitz and her twin sister, Zoe, as well as Dinny Stevens and Carly Yasko, helped Newport Harbor qualify second in both the 200 free relay and 400 free relay, behind Santa Margarita in each race. All four Newport Harbor swimmers also made it back for either the championship finals (top nine) or consolation finals (10-18) in each of their individual events.
Stevens qualified sixth in the 200 free and 14th in the 200 free. Zoe Spitz qualified seventh in 100 butterfly and 12th in the 100 backstroke, while Yasko qualified 10th in the 100 free and 15th in the 200 free.