The Mission Viejo boys' swim team and its refurbished aquatic facility boast a sleek mix of old and new this season.
The Diablos return several key members from a team that finished a close second at the Southern Section Division I finals in May. They've also welcomed U.S. record-holder Larsen Jensen, a senior who transferred from Bakersfield Garces last summer.
Factor in the new deck, snack bar, coaches' office and all-weather storage bin, and the Diablos have polished their reputation as one of the premier swim programs in the Southland.
"They're going to be tough to beat," San Clemente Coach Marc Parker said.
The Tritons' depth may give them the edge in the race for the South Coast League title, but Parker says they will be hard-pressed to match Mission Viejo's best swimmers at the section final.
Seniors Justin Johnson, Paul Divan and Lee Muse are among those returning who are eager to erase memories of last year's section finals, where the Diablos were on track for a victory before being disqualified during the 200 freestyle relay.
Officials ruled that Muse had left early on the third leg and Mission Viejo lost the team title by two points to Newport Harbor.
"It was tough," Muse said. "You learn from your mistakes. I was trying to win a meet and pretty much pushed the limits. I could have stayed back and had a safe start and lost the race or gone for it and gambled."
Johnson, Divan and Muse swam on the 200 medley relay team that won the division title in 1 minute 37.56 seconds last season. Divan also finished second in the 100 breaststroke at the section final.
Nick Divan, Paul's sophomore brother, finished seventh in the 500 freestyle and Muse was sixth in the 200 individual medley. Returning junior Kyle McKnight provides depth in the freestyle sprints and relays.
In addition to Jensen, newcomers include Greg Goodell, the son of two-time Olympic gold medalist Brian Goodell, and Jose Aroesti of Mexico, who lives with the same host family as Jensen while both train with the Mission Viejo Nadadores club team.
"I'm really excited about this season," Johnson said. "We've got guys galore."
Jensen, who broke the American record in the 800-meter freestyle in August, plans to join the Diablos after competing in the U.S. spring nationals April 1-5 and the Duel in the Pool competition between the U.S. and Australia on April 6, both in Indianapolis.
Jensen said he's looking forward to high school competition again.
"I decided to do it just for fun, to lighten the atmosphere," he said. "There's definitely a lot of camaraderie at international meets, more so than any other meet, but it's a lot of fun to hang with your classmates, especially when it's your senior year."
Jensen broke the oldest U.S. men's record when he finished second in the 800 meters in 7:52.05 at the Pan Pacific Championships in Yokohama, Japan. The record was 7:52.45, set by Sean Killion in 1987.
The record was even more significant considering that last spring, Jensen was ranked only 131st in the world in the event, with a personal best of 8:21.91.
Jensen began training last summer with Nadadore Coach Bill Rose after his coach at Bakersfield Swim Club, Jim Richey, moved.
Because his coach at Garces did not permit swimmers to train away from the team, Jensen hasn't competed in high school meets since after his freshman year.
Mission Viejo Coach Jeff Boss learned last summer that Jensen would be transferring to Mission Viejo to be closer to the Nadadores' training center, but he wasn't sure if the swimmer would be eligible this season under section transfer rules.
However, eligibility rules allow a transfer to compete for a high school team if he did not compete in a varsity sport at his previous school in the last 12 months.
"We didn't want to go through with the whole process if he was not going to be eligible," Boss said. "There are a lot of rules you have to understand, kind of like the tax code."
The longest race at the high school level is 500 yards, and Jensen said it might take a few races to get used to the short-course format used in high school meets, mainly because "the walls just get in my way."
But he won't discount the possibility of breaking the 20-year-old national high school record in the 500 freestyle of 4:16.39.
"I'm not going to rest at all [before the Southern Section finals]," he said. "But if I do decide to go for the record, I'll put on a leg suit and make a good run at it."
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*--* THE TIMES' RANKINGS
A look at the top 10 boys' swim teams in the Southland:
*--* 1. MISSION VIEJO, SS-DIV. I
U.S. record-holder Larsen Jensen adds to already deep squad.
*--* 2. SAN CLEMENTE, SS-DIV. I
The Tritons' depth makes them the region's best dual-meet team.
*--* 3. IRVINE, SS-DIV. I
Evan Hsiao was second-best breaststroker in Division I last season.
*--* 4. SERVITE, SS-DIV. I
Adam Hewko won the Division I 500 freestyle and individual medley last season.
*--* 5. EDISON, SS-DIV. I
Multi-event specialist Cody Tague hopes to rekindle Chargers.
*--* 6. NEWPORT HARBOR, SS-DIV. I
Andrew Cole, the defending Division I 100 freestyle champion, returns.
*--* 7. CAPISTRANO VALLEY, SS-DIV. I
Pat Cary and Brent Nolan were part of speedy relays teams last season.
*--* 8. ANAHEIM CANYON, SS-DIV. I
Colby Schlaht, Simon Long and Jeff Price give Comanches flexibility.
*--* 9. SANTA MARGARITA, SS-DIV. I
Doug Ciolli and Cutberto Hernandez are a speedy combination.
*--* 10. DOS PUEBLOS, SS-DIV. I
Finished ninth in Division I last season behind juniors Michael Bowen and Daniel Beal.
-- Dan Arritt