Whether chasing a CIF Southern Section divisional team title like the Crescenta Valley High boys, an individual crown like Glendale's Mickey Mowry or somewhere in between like Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy, today and Friday's divisional preliminaries at Riverside Aquatics Center can't be overlooked.
That's where seeds are established and cuts are made with a top-20 finish in each heat required just to advance to Saturdays finals at the same venue and a top-10 finish needed in order to compete for big points and individual titles.
The Falcons boys have expectations in both areas, as they boast enough depth to be considered a legitimate contender for the Division II crown in the meet that begins on Saturday at 10 a.m. and have some of the highest seeded relays and individuals in the division for Friday's prelims.
Crescenta Valley made no bones about its aspirations for a title last season and after coming up short in third place, the determination has galvanized. The core trio of that team is still intact and all eyes figure to be fixed on Young Tae Seo, Harrison Thai and Louis Wojociechowski when they are in the water. But with Wojociechowski set to leave for college in the fall, the window may be closing ever so slightly on this group's hope for an extended run.
"The guys are kind of evolving because they know how last year went, how we were favored going into prelims and how we didn't have that great of a prelims, which opened the door for El Segundo," Crescenta Valley Coach Jan Sakonju said. "This year Damien is really I think the team to beat. We just need to make sure we do our job on Friday and get everybody qualified. We need every single person we can."
Seo, a multiple CIF titlist over his stellar first two years at CV, is the top seed in the 500-yard freestyle with a seed time of 4 minutes 31.02 seconds and the 100 breaststroke (57.78), while Thai is seeded No. 1 in the 200-individual medley (1:51.68) and second in the 100 backstroke (51.16). Wojociechowski is seeded second in the 100 freestyle (46.33) and third in the 50 freestyle (21.18).
All three standouts figure to swim in some combination on the top-seeded 400-freestyle relay (3:10.66) team or the second-seeded 200-medley relay (1:37.89) team.
Also, making sure lower-seeded swimmers make the cut for finals will be another key for the Falcons in bolstering their team title hopes.
Edward Yi is seeded 13th in the 100 butterfly (53.14) and 500 freestyle (4:49.18) and Jake Ksendov is seeded 29th in the 100 breaststroke. The 200-freestyle relay team is also seeded ninth at 1:29.28.
"Everybody is ranked except for [Ksendov] and we're hoping he can drop some time to qualify for Saturday," Sakonju said. "Last year we weren't sure our 4x50 [freestyle] relay was going to be in the finals. [Now] it looks like it has a legitimate shot of being in the top 10, so that strengthens our lineup from last year."
Mowry is seeded No. 1 in the 100 butterfly (50.44), making him the early favorite to become the first Nitros boys' swimmer to capture a CIF title since Marck Chatfield doubled in the 200 IM and 100 breaststroke in 1971.
He's also the No. 4 seed in the 200 freestyle (1:42.76).
Also looking to compete for an individual title is Crescenta Valley girls' standout Iva Icheva, who is seeded fifth in the 100 backstroke (58.94) and eighth in the 50 freestyle (24.83).
Also representing the Falcons will be Sabrina Hatzer, seeded 17th in the 100 breaststroke (1:10.09), while the 200-medley relay is seeded 15th (1:54.79), the 200-freestyle relay is 22nd (1:44.78) and the 400-freestyle relay is 22nd (3:49.10), as well.
Sacred Heart has steadily increased its CIF finals presence in Division I since Steve Bergen took over as coach three years ago, from two relays qualified, to all three last year, and now a trio of relays plus three individuals set for today's prelims.
"Suddenly we're not just getting one or two girls [to CIF]," Bergen said. "We're sending teams now rather than just individuals.
"We're trying to become more of a player on the Division I scene."
The best shot the Tologs have of reaching that goal this year are in their seventh-seeded 200-medley relay team and freshman Kirsten Vose, who is seeded third in the 100 breaststroke.
Consisting of Vose, Katie Altmayer, Emily Balog and Meg Ryan, the medley relay team enters with seed time of 1:50.08, while Vose's breaststroke seed time is 1:04.71.
Vose also is seeded 19th in the 200-individual medley (2:08.30) and will swim in the 18th-seeded 400-freestyle relay with Ryan, Balog and Altmayer.
Altmayer is seeded 27th in the 200 freestyle (1:56.15) and 20th in the 100 butterfly (58.55), while Balog is the 31st seed in the 100 butterfly (59.95) and 20th in the 100 breaststroke (1:07.90).
Katie Altman, Hannah Walleck, Brynn Whitehouse-Levine and Lauren Smith are seeded 30th (1:43.58) in the 200-freestyle relay.
"Kirsten should be top five [in the breaststroke] for sure and her IM is hopefully going to be top 10," Bergen said. "After that, we just want Katie and Emily to make it back [to finals] in their events."
A small handful of swimmers from Prep qualified for the Division II prelims.
Marco Flores will swim the 200 IM (22nd, 2:01.42) and the 100 butterfly (21st, 53.85) for the Rebels boys and Jennifer Langen is seeded 24th in the 100 freestyle (54.74) and 20th in the 100 backstroke (1:01.95), where teammate Suzanna Tan is seeded 28th (1:03.22).