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All-Area Boys’ Swimmer of the Year: Syrkin uses setback to fuel monster season

All-Area Boys’ Swimmer of the Year: Syrkin uses setback to fuel monster season
La Cañada High sophomore Danny Syrkin is the 2018 All-Area Boys’ Swimmer of the Year. (Raul Roa/Staff Photographer)

It can be difficult at times to pinpoint a specific moment when a team comes together, an idea first gains traction or a thought starts to become reality.

Then again, sometimes it’s not so difficult.

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For the La Cañada High boys’ swim team and sophomore Danny Syrkin, in particular, the 2018 season began in earnest at the tail end of the 2017 campaign.

Syrkin was part of a 200-yard medley relay squad with Eddie Cosic and Thomas Hoffman, then sophomores, and senior Luke Stefan that celebrated what appeared to be the school’s first CIF title since 2015.

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The quartet finished first at the Division II championships at Riverside City College on May 13, 2017. There was a problem, though.

A controversial disqualification cost the Spartans the title and sent the relay squad into a summer of discontent.

From that disappointment, the Spartans and Syrkin built motivation for a breakout 2018 season.

Syrkin concluded a sensational year with four Rio Hondo League championships at the league finals along with the Spartans winning the league crown and then captured two individual Division II titles. Not to be forgotten, Syrkin, Cosic, Hoffman and senior Matt Bilaver claimed a Division II 200 medley championship in a race 12 months in the making.

For those efforts and more, Syrkin was selected the 2018 All-Area Boys’ Swimmer of the Year by the sports writers of the La Cañada Valley Sun, Glendale News-Press and Burbank Leader.

Syrkin is his school’s first All-Area Swimmer of the Year since Garrett Chin in 2014.

“When I began coaching at La Cañada, I wanted to instill into the team the history of excellence and the work ethic,” said Spartans boys’ swim coach David Hill, a 2010 alumnus. “I wanted all the young swimmers to understand that and Danny has really gone and taken that an entire step further.

“He’s a really special athlete and has his own goals and his means of achieving them. Pretty much whatever he sets his mind to, he’s been able to do.”

Only a sophomore, Syrkin is already the school record holder in the 50-yard freestyle (20.76 seconds), the 100 butterfly (47.68), the 100 backstroke (48.87) and is a member of the record-setting 200 medley relay squad (1:32.98).

Those honors, however, don’t exactly erase what took place at last season’s Division II finals.

“Initially, it was shocking,” said Syrkin, who posted a video on YouTube the same day disputing the disqualification. “We all knew that the disqualification was wrong and that it wasn’t a false start. We had video evidence to prove that.”

Maybe the best thing that happened to Syrkin that day was that the then-freshman had another race starting immediately as he finished 11th (1:42.09) in the 200 freestyle. Syrkin also placed third in the 100 butterfly in 48.76 and was a member of the Spartans fourth-place 200 freestyle relay squad (1:26.52).

“I didn’t have time to be angry,” Syrkin said. “I had to shrug it off really quickly and try not to let it affect me for the next race. I didn’t forget about it, though.”

Syrkin wasn’t alone.

“I used what happened as a motivator,” Hoffman said. “Honestly, though, I think it made us all better. We were all sharper and the expectations stayed really high.”

The Spartans cruised through a 6-1 regular season that included dominating Flintridge Prep and St. Francis at the all-La Cañada Flintridge city meet on March 16.

Syrkin came up big all season, with the Rose Bowl Aquatics product winning the 50 free (21:59) and 100 butterfly (51.31) in the team’s matchup at defending two-time Rio Hondo League champion San Marino on April 5.

Syrkin, Cosic, Hoffman and Bilaver won the 200 medley relay (1:38.62), while Syrkin took part in the winning 400 relay (3:20.60). The Spartans handed the Titans their first league setback in three years, 102-68.

“The guys wanted to prove something and that started with San Marino,” Hill said. “Danny had a great day and pushed us to a win.”

The effort that Syrkin cherishes most during the regular season was his performance at the Mt. San Antonio Spring Meet of Champions on April 14.

Against stiff competition, Syrkin claimed the 100 butterfly (48.86), led the 200 medley relay (1:34.69) to victory and was second in the 100 backstroke (50.19).

“The Mt. SAC meet was one week before tapering off for league and CIF and it was a confidence boost for me,” Syrkin said. “That was the fastest I’d gone without rest, so I was excited.”

At the Rio Hondo League finals on May 4, Syrkin set league records in the 50 freestyle (20.76) and 100 butterfly (47.91), while the 200 medley foursome also set a league record of 1:33.53. For good measure, Hoffman, Cosic, Joshua Kim and Syrkin also won the 400 freestyle (3:11.03) as La Cañada claimed a league crown.

That brilliant effort was followed on a magnificent Saturday afternoon May 12 for the Spartans at Riverside City College.

There, La Cañada was stellar in finishing third with 202 points thanks to the exploits of Syrkin.

The sophomore set a Division II record when he won the 100 butterfly (47.48), captured the 100 backstroke (48.47) crown and joined his teammates for a much-desired 200 medley relay championship.

“What happened last year hit us all really hard and we felt robbed,” Cosic said. “We were a little angry and we wanted it this year. If you look at our team, we have a lot of good club swimmers, so the talent wasn’t missing. That’s what I think Danny did really well.

“He’s just not a great swimmer, but a leader. We weren’t pressured. Danny helped really motivate us.”

Riverside capped an amazing year for Syrkin as he chose to focus on his club season and skip the CIF State Meet.

“I could have gone to state, but I accomplished what I wanted to this season,” Syrkin said. “It was a great year.”

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