For the past three seasons, it seemed like you could pencil the Crescenta Valley High boys’ swimming team in for a podium finish at the CIF Southern Section Division II finals before the season even started.
Such was the level of consistency that came to be expected from a stacked lineup featuring bona fide stars Young Tae Seo and Harrison Thai on the front line and a deep supporting cast.
Just about all of the group that helped the Falcons capture a CIF title in 2012, bookended by a third-place showing in 2011 and last year’s runner-up finish, is now graduated, which makes Crescenta Valley much more of a question mark than it’s been in years.
“It’s not just that we lost [Seo and Thai], who are probably two of the best swimmers in our program’s history, but we lost a lot of key role players, as well,” said Falcons Coach Jan Sakonju, whose losses also included Antonio Camarillo, Jake Ksendov, Stephen Woo, Andrew Lockwood, Parker Griffin and Russell Carpenter. “We had our standouts with Young Tae and Harrison, but we also had significant contributors with the other teammates and they graduated as well.
“But it opens up a new opportunity for our younger guys who need to step up and take responsibility.”
Picking up the torch will be juniors Edward Yi and Eric Park, who got some valuable experience at the CIF meet last season.
“I really started relying on their leadership when we were still wrapping up the season last year,” Sakonju said.
Water polo captain Ryan Moguel adds some senior leadership, but overall the Falcons are trending younger, with sophomores Eddie Gallegugh and Hyung Sung Kim expected to be among the team’s top swimmers.
Accordingly, Sakonju is reassessing the team’s CIF goals for this season with more of a rebuilding perspective.
“Our goal is to place as high as possible, but what that number really is I’m not sure,” Sakonju said. “To win it? Not this year. We’re going to have to build toward that this year and next year for a shot at winning CIF.”
The Falcons also won their 22nd straight Pacific League title last season, but even that typical area of dominance for the program is no longer a sure thing.
“We want to keep the streak going,” he said, “but with graduating so many guys and Arcadia picking up a top level club swimmer, we’re really going to have to work and earn it.
“We can’t take the league championship for granted.”
The Falcons could also receive a credible challenge from Glendale this season, as Nitros Coach Forest Holbrook has his own promising youth movement taking hold.
Versatile sophomore Jayson Wilia is one of the top returners on a team that will look to several promising freshmen, including Trenton Julian, Narek Yeghikyan and Arthur Manvelyan.
Top freestyler Bijan Rezvani returns for his senior year.
In the Prep League, Flintridge Prep is looking to defend its title. The Rebels are also looking to move up the ladder a bit more in Division III, where they finished third last year after making the welcome drop down from Division II.
Prep welcomes a new coach in Ingrid Herskind, who has an impressive track record in one of the school's traditional stock sports, boys’ cross country. Having coached the Rebels’ boys runners into a perennial CIF divisional and state contender over the past decade and change, Herskind, a former NCAA Division 1 swimmer at Brown, hopes to help the Rebels’ aquatics programs become a consistent player as well.
“We had a really good year last year,” Herskind said. “We really struggled in Division II, so last year was definitely a much better placement for the league.”
The graduated Bruce Park will be missed, but the Rebels' top overall swimmer from last year, senior Marco Flores, is back along with fellow seniors Carlo Sivilotti and Ethan Vendeventer, who bring speed and stamina from the water polo program.
Big things are expected of freshman Andy Langan, brother of senior Prep girls standout Jennifer Langan, in his high school debut this season.
“Our goal is we would like to at least get in the top five at CIF,” Herskind said. “I think we can even do better, but we will just put it at that.”