PREP SWIMMING / CIF GIRLS' RELAYS : Irvine Leaves the Rest of Field in Its Wake En Route to Championship

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Going into the finals of the Southern Section Relays on Saturday night at Belmont Plaza, Irvine's girls' swimming team was favored to win its first such relay title.

But Irvine didn't leave anything to chance. During a pre-meet lunch, the Vaqueros psyched up by braiding their hair and applying Roadrunner tattoos on their shoulders.

Although the Roadrunner is more of a landlubber, "he's fast," explained one Irvine swimmer.

So were the Vaqueros, who won the section relays by a landslide. Irvine scored 216 points to runner-up Fountain Valley's 175. Mission Viejo was third (166) and defending champion El Toro took fourth (160).

Most of the top teams participating were missing at least one swimmer to the junior national meet in North Dakota. Irvine, with Wendy O'Brien gone, was no exception.

"We weren't sure how much that would hurt us," senior Monica Huszcz said.

Not much. According to Coach Scott Hinman, every Irvine swimmer swam an average of two seconds faster than they had at last weekend's South Coast Relays, which they lost to El Toro.

"After last weekend, I changed some people around," Hinman said. "I thought we'd have a shot, but I didn't think we'd win by this much."

El Toro Coach Sheri Ross, who was missing Katie Lowes and Christie Kennedy, did: "I thought last week that they would win."

Irvine didn't win a single relay, but pulled out the team title through depth. It was the lone school to qualify in the championship heats of all seven events, where the Vaqueros were second in the 6 X 50-yard freestyle and the 4 X 100 freestyle relays.

Huszcz's anchor time of 54.01 in the 400 free relay was her personal best and Lana Kraus posted a section qualifying time in the same event. And, in the last event of the meet, the 4 X 50 medley relay, Irvine got a glimpse of its promising future. It's fourth-place team was made up of four freshmen.

Going into the final event, Mission Viejo, Capistrano Valley and El Toro were tied for fifth. In a close race with Mission Viejo, Irvine and Redlands, El Toro's backstroker took the lead and the next two swimmers held their positions for the Charger victory.

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