About the time Casey Duckworth was on the block to anchor the 400-yard freestyle relay, her teammates gathered to watch. All eyes were on Duckworth, racing in the event that was the last one in the day for Newport Harbor High.
Duckworth knew what was at stake in the Battle of the Bay girls' swimming meet against Corona del Mar last week. She remembered how Coach Brian Melstrom drew it up before any competitor jumped in the pool.
In Melstrom's eyes, the final event was going to decide whether the Sailors won or lost. None of the two was going to happen.
On the third leg, Catherine Carpenter gave the Sailors a slight lead before Duckworth dove in. She was working with a half-a-second edge, enough to convince her of one thing.
"I just knew that there was no way we could let them beat us," Duckworth said.
The sophomore made sure of it. One of the youngest in the water held off the nearest challenger. The Sailors finished first in the 400 freestyle relay in 3 minutes, 39.60 seconds, capping a come-from-behind tie.
Yes, that is right. The Back Bay rivals finished dead even at the end. On the books the meet was an 85-85 tie, but to Duckworth it was much more than that for Newport Harbor.
"We considered it a win," said Duckworth, adding that the Sailors raced without Maddy McLaren (back injury) and Sarah Wilkey (ill).
"It was a great way to end the meet."
Melstrom hopes this is the start of something new for Duckworth, the Daily Pilot Athlete of the Week.
Sure, she helped the 400 freestyle relay record a season-best mark, as well as in the 200 free relay (1:41.77), and she produced first-place finishes in the 500 free (5:10.70) and 200 individual medley (2:11.11).
The last two are Duckworth's top individual events. Compared to last season, she has swum each of those events differently.
"Casey has not been … at her top level all year as she was last year. She was much faster last year," said Melstrom, who saw Duckworth as a freshman record a 2:05.83 in the 200 IM and a 4:57.01 in the 500 free, times she has not come close to this season. "I'm hoping that in the next two weeks here we build [on] something special and she can get back to where she was."
Duckworth will have to turn it up a notch as the Sunset League preliminaries are on Wednesday at Newport Harbor. The league finals are on Friday.
Melstrom said Duckworth plans to use these two meets to prepare for the CIF Southern Section Division I meet. Next week, Duckworth will face something she has not had much of this season.
"She hasn't had the competition all year," Melstrom said. "It's been a slow progression back down for her, and now in the league championship meet, she's going to have to perform in the league prelims to even get to the finals."
Both Duckworth and Melstrom attribute the slower times to Duckworth switching clubs.
She is dealing with a different coach and different training style. She is glad she is.
Duckworth is no longer with the Irvine AquaZot Swim Club. She is with the Fullerton Aquatics Sports Team.
"It was kind of taking the fun out of swimming," said Duckworth of her former club. "[My coach Brian Pajer] was very tough. He had a very forceful way of handling things. [He] was very verbally on top of you. I was used to dealing with it kind of, but last summer between not dropping [times] and him being like that, it kind of was all overwhelming.
"High school is definitely relaxed compared to club swimming, but I like [high school] a lot because the team is so much more together. I mean, club, you practice with them every day, but high school, it's more motivating with team bonding and team fun. Club's year round and there's no really big part to it. In high school, you always have CIF."
At Newport Harbor, Duckworth always has the Battle of the Bay to look forward to against CdM. She contributed to last season's upset win at CdM and now a tie at home.
Duckworth can proudly say that she has never lost to the Sea Kings in the annual rivalry meet.
Hometown: Costa Mesa
Born: Dec. 1, 1994
Weight: 130 pounds
Sport: Girls' swimming
Individual events: 200 individual medley, 500 freestyle
Coach: Brian Melstrom
Favorite food: Spaghetti
Favorite movie: "Due Date"
Favorite athletic moment: "Last year at the Edison dual meet, me and my best friend Sarah Moss [of Edison], we both wore our racing suits and we raced in the 200 IM and I [won in 2:05 and] beat my best time by three seconds.
Week in review: Duckworth anchored the Sailors' 400-yard freestyle relay team to a victory, ensuring that Newport Harbor tied Corona del Mar, 85-85, in the Battle of the Bay meet. Duckworth also placed first in the 200 individual medley in 2 minutes, 11.11 seconds and first in the 500 freestyle in 5:10.70. She helped the 200 freestyle relay to a first-place showing (1:41.77).