IRVINE — They swam fast Friday afternoon, but Corona del Mar High seniors Hayden Leach and Bruce Bearer ran even faster as the Pacific Coast League finals ended.
They came for Coach Barry O'Dea, muscling him into the water at Beckman High. The CdM boys had just won their fifth straight league title by the slimmest of margins, finishing with 484 points compared to 482.5 for second-place University.
Corona del Mar's girls broke four school records in finishing a strong second to University.
After the boys' win, O'Dea shared a meaningful moment with Leach and Bearer, the defender and goalie who helped the Sea Kings win the CIF Southern Section Division II boys' water polo title last fall.
"It's about seniors sticking it out and doing what it takes for the team," O'Dea said. "Those are two guys who could have said, 'Hey, it's my senior year. I want to go and have a good time' … They're not year-round club swimmers. Those are water polo guys, and they're paying back to the program. It's huge. I was saying, 'Thank you.' "
Even without Northwestern-bound senior standout John Kim (sprained ankle), Corona del Mar prevailed again. O'Dea said Kim, who sprained the ankle falling on stairs earlier in the week, was originally set to be out two weeks. O'Dea said if he doesn't receive a different timetable from Kim's doctor by Saturday morning, he won't enter Kim into the CIF Southern Section Division I meet, which would strike a definite blow to the Sea Kings' CIF title hopes.
On Friday afternoon, though, it was all about the swimmers who were actually there on deck. The Sea Kings can thank Leach and Bearer. They swam the leadoff and anchor legs, respectively, on the "B" relay on the meet-ending 400-yard freestyle relay. Corona del Mar led by three-and-a-half points going into the relay, but the "B" team of Leach, Jake Wyatt, Liam Karas and Bearer won their consolation heat in 3 minutes, 15.64 seconds.
That stretched CdM's lead to 7 1/2 points, meaning all the Sea Kings had to do was finish a spot behind Uni on the "A" relay to win the meet. They did, as Garrett Larson, Blake Motal, Jared Namba and Matt Berry touched second in 3:11.40.
"It's depth, and at meets like this it's about depth," O'Dea said. "CIF's going to be about speed. League finals and league meets are about depth."
Event winners included Berry in the 50 free (21.52 seconds), Ari Marks in the 100 free (47.02) and Namba in the 100 back (52.34). The Sea Kings' Paul Sigler, Wyatt and Leach also went two-three-four in the 500 free, which also featured a remarkable swim by sophomore Richard Barden. He went 4:59.44, dropping 13 seconds from his time in the preliminaries. He out-touched a University swimmer to finish second in the consolation finals, pumping up the CdM coaching staff. The Sea Kings definitely needed everyone to rise to the challenge to win yet another league title.
"It's nice to own something," Namba said of the fifth straight title. "I think [winning without Kim] showed how much depth we have. I think it showed that we don't just rely on one person."
Brynne Wong set two school records for the CdM girls, and fellow sophomore Ally McCormick set one as well. Wong won the 50 free in 24.18, breaking Ashley Chandler's 2006 mark of 24.23. She also lowered her own record in the 100 fly (56.19).
"They're both right around my best times, which is good," Wong said. "I'm really just resting for CIF … I feel like winning these two events is a good confidence-booster."
Coach Stephanie Gabert said McCormick set personal-best times in the 100 free (51.94, second) and 200 free (1:52.74, fourth). The 100 free time is another school record, breaking Jordan Anae's 52.61 mark from 2003.
The CdM girls' 200 free relay team of Wong, Tori Gabert, McCormick and Hollace Barden finished third at league finals, but their time of 1:38.98 was yet another school record.
"All our freestylers dropped so much time," Stephanie Gabert said. "This was a drastic improvement from last year, getting third last year. I'm super-proud of them, and they should be too."
University's Chris Wong (boys) and Megan Rankin (girls) were named swimmers of the meet.