Estancia High senior Nikkie Blinn could feel Costa Mesa junior Lauren Smith breathing down her neck.
Blinn and Smith were perhaps the two best girls' water polo players in the city of Costa Mesa last winter. But they were battling in the anchor leg of the 200-yard freestyle relay at Wednesday's Orange Coast League swim meet at Costa Mesa High, and Smith was closing fast in the final 25 yards.
Blinn said after the meet that she found a second wind. She held off Smith, touching in 1 minute, 52.45 seconds, with the Mustangs close behind in 1:52.78.
On the girls' side, the Eagles showed that they also have a swimming leg up on the Mustangs for the first time in years.
Estancia's girls won the dual meet, 93-72, their first dual meet win against their rivals since the Golden West League champion team of 2006. Mesa was too strong on the boys' side, 110-60.
The Estancia girls improved to 4-1 in league and have momentum going into the league finals, which have preliminaries Tuesday and finals Thursday, also at the Mustangs' pool.
Costa Mesa's girls have finished second in the league for six straight years, but it is the Eagles who occupy that spot at the moment.
"It's awesome, because these past couple of years Mesa has always beaten us in water polo," Blinn said. "They've just been really good at aquatics. But then, to finally come back as a senior and beat them, it's kind of like a high school dream come true. Now, after Laguna, we're second in league, which is the highest we've been ranked in a while. That's exciting."
Estancia girls' coach Bob Bandaruk said all of his girls swam their best times. Blinn was the anchor of two winning relays, including the aforementioned 200 free relay that also featured Brandi White, Alexis Discenzo and Darby Lester. The Eagles also won the meet-opening 200 medley relay, as Jenna Rutledge, White, Lester and Blinn finished in 2:09.37.
Blinn captured the 50 free (27.74 seconds) and 100 breaststroke in 1:19.60. White, a sophomore who was the only Estancia swimmer to make CIF finals last year, won the 200 IM in 2:26.47, as well as the 100 backstroke in 1:08.22. Each time is a CIF Southern Section Division 3 consideration time.
Lester won the 100 butterfly in 1:18.19 for Estancia, which swept the top three spots in both the individual medley and butterfly. Rutledge and Genesis Fuentes were strong in the IM, each posting their best times of 2:45.02 and 2:54.89, as were Discenzo and Fuentes in the fly.
"My butterflyers [Lester and Discenzo] went 1:18s today, and they were 1:20 and 1:23 before today," Bandaruk said. "I'm excited. We got knocked off early on, but we were missing some kids at the earlier meets. We had a tough time with shoulder injuries and stuff like that early on. We lost a couple of the other dual meets that we legitimately could have won, with like Ocean View and La Quinta. But that's all right, that's why you have those nonleague [meets]. I'd rather lose those and not lose these."
Smith was a standout for the Costa Mesa girls, winning the 200 freestyle in 2:09.26 and the 100 free in 59.12. Each time is a Division 3 consideration cut.
Yessenia Villa won the 500 free for the Mustangs (1-4 in league), finishing in 6:18.29. Mesa also won the 400 free relay, as Devon Christensen, Villa, Bridgette Smitheram and Smith touched in 4:14.17.
The Mesa boys improved to 2-3 in league dual meets. They dominated, winning 10 of 11 events. Senior Tyler Connors won the 200 IM in a season-best 2:03.26, and also captured the 100 back in 56.24. Both times are CIF automatic cuts for Connors, who last year was fifth in the back and seventh in the IM at CIF finals.
Considering the windy conditions, Costa Mesa Coach Justin Taylor said he was pleased with Connors' day.
"He was within a second of his best time in the IM," Taylor said. "All things considered, I think he swam really well today."
Connors also swam anchor on both winning freestyle relays. Andrew Palacios, Jacob Peterson, Raymond Andrade and Connors won the 200 free relay in 1:37.36, while the same quartet also won the 400 free relay in a season-best 3:35.59.
Palacios won the 200 free (2:01.45) and 500 free (5:39.31). The Mustangs swept the top three spots in the latter event, with Corbin Fisher in second and August Akerstrom in third.
Andrade captured the 50 free (24.46) and 100 free (54.10). Costa Mesa's Nick Ly won the 100 breast in 1:14.71.
Estancia's boys (1-4 in league) are young this year, as top swimmers like Kyle Fitzgerald, Kent Lim and Jason Chesemore are all freshmen. Fitzgerald won the only individual event for the Eagles, the 100 fly, in 1:06.65. He also was second in the 200 free in a personal-best time of 2:07.86.
Estancia Coach John Carpenter said he is working toward getting the 200 free relay team into a CIF consideration time. The quartet consists of Fitzgerald, Lim and Chesemore, as well as senior Mario Mendez.
"Over half the team is freshman or sophomores, so we're looking good for building this year," Carpenter said.