Los Angeles Times

Flintridge Sacred Heart's Kirsten Vose led Tologs to even more success

In a sport characterized by individual accomplishment in which success is most often defined by tenths of a second, Kirsten Vose's past season at Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy was hardly one that ran along traditional definitions.

In a nod to the coaching of Steve Bergen and the chemistry embodied by the Tologs, Flintridge Sacred Heart embraced the team concept and swam to an undefeated Mission League season that was unprecedented in its dominance before taking sixth at the CIF Southern Section Division I championships.

As for Vose, she won a pair of Mission League individual titles, two more in relays, was a catalyst in the Tologs' league team title, finished in the top five in two CIF individual finals and shined in the Tologs' 200-yard medley relay CIF championship.

Perhaps her most impressive statistic was that she swam to automatic All-American honors in six events over the year.

And yet the factor that might be the most telling in regards to Vose's talent is the sentiment that followed it.

"Obviously I was hoping for a little more, but we all have off days," she says of her performance at CIF finals, which equated to individual finishes of second and fifth, as well as a victory and a runner-up mark in relays.

And therein lies the level of expectation and greatness set by Flintridge Sacred Heart junior swimmer Kirsten Vose, who was voted the 2014 All-Area Girls' Swimmer of the Year by the Burbank Leader, Glendale News-Press and La Cañada Valley Sun sportswriters.

"I think she probably was a little disappointed," senior teammate Katie Altmayer says of Vose. "She has more talent than most people.

"In terms of the average person, she had a phenomenal season."

Alas, Vose has shown time and time again she's far from average in the confines of a swimming pool. But there's still no denying that Vose's 2014 campaign was of the phenomenal variety.

In 2013, she was also the All-Area Girls' Swimmer of the Year, aiding the Tologs in their first 200 medley relay CIF championship before swimming to an individual championship in the 100 breaststroke.

This season, the Tologs repeated as champs in the 200 medley, but Vose took fifth in the 100 breast, which is the largest culprit in any measure of discontent for Vose.

"Individually, I know she was disappointed," Bergen says.

With that disappointment comes further emphasis of just how high Vose's hopes have reached, right along with the Tologs, who improved to sixth at the CIF Division I finals with a 149-point standing after taking seventh the season before, but were a bit upset they didn't ascend into the top five, according to Bergen.

"The expectations now are sky high at Sacred Heart," Bergen says.

The reality of the 2014 season for the Tologs and Vose, though, is that it was an excellent one.

Flintridge Sacred Heart won its third straight Mission League title, simply dismantling its league opposition as it lost just one race in league dual meets — and that came via disqualification.

"I think it's been building. I think we've all done a really good job of focusing," Altmayer says. "We've been getting better every year; this was just the best year so far."

The Tologs' finest example of league dominance came at the Mission League finals on April 29 at the Rose Bowl Aquatics Center. It wasn't until about midway through the meet that Bergen let his Tologs know they were closing in on history.

"During the finals, I didn't even realize — halfway through I didn't even realize until Steve told us we'd won all the previous races," Vose says. "Then we were like, we have to do this."

What the Tologs had and did do was sweep the league finals, winning all 12 events, with Vose collecting league titles in the 200 IM, the 100 free in a meet record 50.63 seconds and as a part of the 200 medley and 400 freestyle relays.

"I don't see any other school doing that any time soon," Bergen says.

In many ways, it was a crowning achievement for a group that bought in to the team concept of swimming, which can be a rarity in a sport that's largely about individual accomplishments.

"We all just have so much fun with our team," Vose says. "Everybody's so supportive and that helps everybody stay calm and do better."

Adds Altmayer: "I think high school swimming, in particular, is all about the team."

The team went on to the CIF finals in Riverside looking to do what it has now built a reputation for, being the little school that can. With but roughly 400 students at Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy, swimming with the sharks that fill a CIF Southern Section Division I pool could be daunting. For the Tologs, it's become the norm.

"It's just kind of what we're used to," Altmayer says. "We know what to expect."

That doesn't mean it halts any surprise from outsiders, though.

"People ask how big our school is and we say, '400 students' and they're like, 'Oh wow!'" Vose says.

While others are still adjusting to how a school with such small numbers could produce such big results in swimming, Vose and Co. have become accustomed to winning.

And on May 17, they did it again, when Altmayer, Vose, Kate Herrill and Christina Campbell swam to a CIF title in the 200 medley relay in 1:44.38.

"This year we were confident, but we were a little anxious going in," Altmayer says. "I think it was a huge accomplishment. To be able to win that was a great way to end the season."

The same quartet took second in the 200 freestyle relay (1:34.78), while Vose finished second in the 200 IM in 2:00.85, which was a marked improvement from a sixth-place finish in 2:05.63 the year prior. In her attempt to repeat in the 100 breaststroke, though, Vose finished fifth in 1:03.51, just under a second slower than the season prior.

"Going in, I was hoping to get the win, but I knew I would have to push myself to new limits," Vose says.

Perhaps it was an off-day. Perhaps it was that combined with Valencia Valencia freshman phenom Nikol Popov's debut, as she won both the 100 breast and 200 IM and was the No. 1 freshman nationally in both events.

"In my opinion, it was a little more difficult," Vose says of the field.

And perhaps it was the weight of shouldering the champion's crown.

"I know her competition was a lot tougher," Altmayer says. "And I think it's hard after you have all the expectations. It's a little easier when you're under the radar."

Whatever it was, it certainly wasn't enough to label Vose's junior season as anything but one of excellence.

Though Vose came up short of repeating as a CIF individual champion, it's still clear that she improved in 2014, despite the finish of one race.

"This year, in particular, she has become a much more well-rounded swimmer," Bergen says. "She's much better at doing all the little things right."

Vose was a member of two automatic All-American relays — along with Altmayer, Campbell and Herrill — in the 200 medley (1:44.38) and 200 free (1:34.78) and was an automatic All-American in four individual events: the 100 free (50.63), 200 free (1:49.14), 100 breast (1:02.30) and 200 IM (2:00.85).

"She's an amazing swimmer," Altmayer says. "She's one of the more talented people I've ever seen."

"She's as good as it gets in Southern California," Bergen adds. "I know next year, she has more drive to make up for the disappointment."

Indeed, making up for the disappointment of being a Mission League and CIF titlist and a multiple-event All-American will be an arduous task, but Vose has a senior season to do just that.

"I think next year," Altmayer says, "will be a huge year for her."


Follow Grant Gordon on Twitter: @TCNGrantGordon.

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