NEWPORT BEACH — Down the whole meet, the Newport Harbor High girls' swim team came into the final event of the day still controlling its own destiny.
Zoe Robles, Carly Christian, Catherine Carpenter and Casey Duckworth had all their ducks in a row in the Battle of the Bay. They needed to win the meet-ending 400-yard freestyle relay to forge at least a tie with rival Corona del Mar.
Newport girls' Coach Brian Melstrom made sure they knew the importance.
"Right before we got in, [Melstrom] was like, 'In order to win the meet you've got to win the race.'" Christian said. "We were like, 'Oh God.' We just got pumped up and knew what we had to do."
The Newport quartet touched first, allowing Newport Harbor to rally for an 85-85 tie Thursday.
Corona del Mar was dominant on the boys' side, winning the Battle of the Bay for the third straight year by posting a 117-53 victory.
The Newport girls were down, 79-77, headed into the final relay. Melstrom was actually hoping the Sailors would get first and third in that last relay, which would allow them to win the meet by four points. But CdM's "A" team (Ally McCormick, Tori Gabert, Pippa Saunders and Hollace Barden) and "B" team (Ellen Naruse, Victoria Pierotti, Natalie Wong and Devon Greenlee) finished second and third, respectively.
Melstrom was still happy after his top team touched in 3 minutes, 39.60 seconds, easily a season-best.
"It's a victory for us, for sure," he said. "For what we've had to work with all season, this was our best meet by far. We'll take the tie. It's not a loss. You can't tie in water polo, but in a swim meet a tie is better than a loss."
The Sailors were missing water polo standouts Maddy McLaren (back injury) and Sarah Wilkey (sickness). Duckworth helped pick up some slack, winning the 200 individual medley (2:11.11) and 500 free (5:10.70). Naruse was second in each race.
Freshman Marissa Robertson was another double-event winner for Newport Harbor. She won the 50 free in a personal-best 24.72 seconds, a CIF Southern Section Division I automatic time. Robertson grinned and gave a high-five to her mom at the scorer's table after finding out the time, and she later won the 100 breast (1:12.51) as well. Carpenter also came up large, as the Stanford-bound water polo player won the 100 back in 1:02.16.
Carpenter also swam a fast anchor leg to help the Newport Harbor "B" team finish third in the 200 free relay. The event was won by the Sailors' "A" team of Christian, Robertson, Duckworth and Robles, meaning the Sailors outscored the Sea Kings, 10-4, in the event to draw closer.
Melstrom said he essentially threw the medley relay at the start of the meet, saving his top swimmers for the two freestyle relays. It paid off for the Sailors, who also saw Christian post a personal-best 1:57.27 in the 200 free. She was second in that race to her fellow sophomore from CdM, McCormick (1:56.12).
"I consider [the tie] a victory," Duckworth said. "I mean, Newport's kind of always the underdog in swimming. I can safely say that. So tying with a team like CdM is pretty big, especially considering how many more club swimmers they have."
CdM's Brynne Wong won the 100 fly in 1:00.92, and Barden won the 100 free in 54.04. The Sea Kings' medley relay team of Naruse, Saunders, Wong and Barden also touched first in 1:55.38.
On the boys' side, Newport Harbor posted a job opening for the vacant boys' water polo and boys' swimming coaching position Thursday. Interim coach Clay Jorth, himself a former Sailors standout, said he was undecided if he would apply for the job.
Jorth was named the interim swim coach after the firing of Jason Lynch on April 8. His Sailors were clearly overmatched by Corona del Mar, which staked its case for Orange County's top team after beating Capistrano Valley in a tri-meet Tuesday.
CdM Coach Barry O'Dea said his swimmers didn't compete in their usual events. The wins still piled up for CdM. Ari Marks won the 50 free (a personal-best and CIF automatic 21.61) and the 100 back (55.62). John Kim won the 100 fly (52.17) and the 100 breast (1:01.95).
Jared Namba, who broke his own school record in the 100 back (51.72) during Tuesday's meet, was another double-event winner Thursday for CdM. He took the 200 IM in 1:59.93 and the 100 free in 48.46 for the Sea Kings, who also won all three relays.
"The boys are doing really well," O'Dea said. "If I'm able to swim off-events and still get the kind of results we got today, we're doing OK … Tuesday was very intense. They got some mental break today, but at the same time it was Battle of the Bay and they competed very hard."
Jorth said the Sailors were battling sickness and brought up junior varsity swimmers Sam Edson, Trevor Harper and Hank Lee for the Battle of the Bay. One person who didn't show up was a referee for the Sailors' home meet, so CdM assistant coach Jennifer Bloomfield announced the events.
"It's been really hectic," said Jorth, 23. The 2005 Daily Pilot Boys' Water Polo Player of the Year went on to play at UCLA before graduating in December.
"I just came in just to do the best with these guys and keep the tradition of excellence within the program," Jorth said. "I just wanted it to be as smooth a transition as possible, and let the swim team – and especially these seniors – finish up their season. I haven't been trying to fill anyone's shoes, per se, but I want them to keep the work ethic up and break individual records. That's all I can ask of them."
Newport Harbor junior Tom Fisher provided the Sailors boys' lone two event wins, taking the 200 free in 1:45.91 and also the 500 free (4:50.42).