Sage Matsushima was remarkably consistent during her four-year swimming career at Marina High.
Matsushima finished in top-three position at the CIF Southern Section Division 1 swim meet in the 100-yard butterfly every year. She was second as a freshman, second as sophomore, third as a junior and second this year as a senior.
One might think that Matsushima would be disappointed to be so close to first place so many times. This year she was the runner-up to Santa Margarita junior Anicka Delgado, who won the event for the third straight year, touching in 53.33 on May 4 at Riverside City College. Matsushima was second in 53.79, lowering her own school record in the event.
Matsushima, bound for Brown University, could have also felt disappointment in the 100 backstroke, despite finishing third in a school-record time of 54.89. That was two-hundredths of a second behind her friend and former club teammate, Madelyn Harris of Huntington Beach, the younger sister of former Marina standout Jacquelyn Harris.
Disappointment in a placing, however, is not the way that Matsushima is wired.
“Most of the time, I’m not really thinking of places,” she said. “For me, it’s more how fast can I go? If I can be No. 1 or No. 2, I don’t really care about that. As long as I do well myself and I’m satisfied, then I don’t really care what place it is.”
It’s a smart attitude from a smart person, who has taken Advanced Placement classes in Literature, Computer Science, Economics and Calculus BC during her senior year.
Marina girls’ swim coach Stephen Wight, in his ninth year with the program and fifth year in charge, has always said that Matsushima is a big-meet swimmer.
“I know a big goal of hers last year was to get that 53 [in the butterfly],” Wight said. “I know she wanted to go faster this year, but for her talent, that’s still a good time drop. Everybody wants to get [first], but especially when you look back at it, you’re like, ‘Second place is pretty good.’ She got all of her other goals. She definitely was happy with how she ended everything.
“She tapers really well. The first two years, when she was swimming with Jacqueline, Jacqueline would always get her at league finals. But then Sage would always get her at CIF because that just seemed like an even bigger meet for her. Throughout the year, she doesn’t always put up the blistering fast times. But you know at the end, those last two weeks of league finals and CIF, she’s always going to be there.”
Matsushima agreed that she was happy with her postseason performance. At the Wave League finals, she became a league champion in an individual event for the first time, touching first in the butterfly in 53.94. She won the event by more than seven seconds.
“I think it went pretty well,” she said. “I was super-excited and happy about my last swims at CIF. At league, I was a little disappointed because they split the league into two this year. I wasn’t able to race some of my other friends [who were in the Surf League]. I’m not sure if they’d push me or not, but I’d like to have them there. Either way, I’m just happy that I swam really fast.”
The graduation of Matsushima and Madeline Sandstead this year represents the end of an era at Marina in some ways. Jacquelyn Harris, now at UC Santa Barbara, was another obvious standout. So was Sage’s older sister Terra, who graduated last year and is finishing up her freshman year and swimming at New York University.
Three years ago, the four swimmers — the Matsushima sisters, Sandstead and Harris — edged out Edison to win the Sunset League title in the girls’ 400 freestyle relay. Sage Matsushima, an accomplished club swimmer with Irvine Novaquatics, called the moment her favorite so far in the sport.
“The things that they’ve accomplished over the last six years have been incredible,” Wight said. “That 400 free relay has got the four fastest girls in school history on it … [but] nobody had expected that from us.”
The Vikings girls beat rival Huntington Beach four straight years in league, a streak that ended this year, when Marina went 0-3 in Wave League dual meets.
“I don’t really mind that there isn’t any big presence over here,” Sage Matsushima said. “I just wish there were more club swimmers looking at Marina, seeing that it’s still a possibility to go there. Even though we may not be the greatest team, it’s still a great school. I would honestly go back here no matter what, if I had a second chance. I’d always come back here.”
Matsushima can be content in knowing that her senior year ended well.
“I don’t think legacy is the right word, but I’m happy with what I did here,” she said. “I don’t think I could have done it anywhere else. I love the team.”
Born: June 9, 2001
Hometown: Huntington Beach
Height: 5 feet 4 1/2
Coach: Stephen Wight
Favorite food: Hawaiian fried rice
Favorite movie: “Mulan”
Favorite athletic moment: Helping Marina win the Sunset League title in the 400-yard freestyle relay with Terra Matsushima, Jacqueline Harris and Madeline Sandstead as a freshman in 2016.
Week in review: Matsushima finished second in the girls’ 100-yard butterfly (53.79 seconds) and third in the 100 backstroke (54.89) at the CIF Southern Section Division 1 swim finals on May 4 at Riverside City College. Both times were school records.
Support our sports coverage by becoming a digital subscriber.