RIVERSIDE — For the third year in a row, the Corona del Mar High boys' swim team made an electrifying statement at the start of the CIF Southern Section Division 1 finals.
On Saturday night at Riverside City College, the Sea Kings shattered a record that had been around since before any of the four swimmers were born. It was the start of a night of strong swims that earned the CdM boys a historic second-place team finish.
It's the first time since winning in 1970 that CdM's boys have finished top-two as a team in CIF swimming.
CdM won the 200-yard medley relay for the third straight year at Division 1 finals. Senior Jared Namba, freshman Tyler Lin, junior Christian Garkani and junior Blake Motal touched in 1:32.88, a school record, Orange County record and Division 1 meet record time. San Marino held the previous Division 1 meet record, a 1:33.21 in 1991.
"We've been going for that record since I was a freshman," said the Columbia-bound Namba, who won CIF in the event three times in his prep career. "We missed it by like 0.03 or something last year, so to get it senior year is pretty amazing. We've always been toying around with that record. We were posting pretty fast un-tapered. I thought if we just get it together and use the adrenaline of finals, we could definitely get it, at least go 1:33 and get it. I didn't know we'd go 1:32."
The Sea Kings were uniformly fast throughout the finals. It still wasn't enough for a team title, but it was good for that runner-up hardware. Capistrano Valley won the meet with 389 points, followed by CdM in second with 302 points. Newport Harbor was 12th.
The past two years, CdM had placed third as a team. This time they accomplished something that a CdM boys' team hadn't done in 42 years.
"Capo was really fast," CdM boys' Coach Barry O'Dea said. "We just wanted to hold on to the runner-up spot. It's better than finishing in the third spot. Of course, you always want to try and win it, but sometimes it's all about your numbers and how deep you can go. We had a couple of guys step up really big and put us in the right position."
JSerra edged University's girls in the decisive 400 free relay, capturing the Division 1 title while the Trojans took second. CdM's girls placed 13th for the third straight year.
CdM secured the second-place boys' finish after its 400 free relay team (Ari Marks, Richie Barden, Liam Karas and Namba) finished fourth in 3:08.28. Individually, the Sea Kings had more than a handful of standout races. Namba won an individual event for the first time in high school, taking the 200 individual medley in a school-record time of 1:50.01. Namba now owns the CdM record in three individual events, also including the butterfly and backstroke.
In Saturday night's 200 IM final, Namba topped his friend Corey Okubo of University, who finished second in 1:50.19.
"This morning, I asked Corey, and he told me he was going to go out for it," Namba said. "After the first 50, I was ahead … I just wanted to keep it going. I just played it 50 by 50."
Namba later finished second in the 100 back, in 49.94. Event winner Kyle Gornay of Redlands (48.17) was simply too fast.
"This was huge for [Namba]," O'Dea said. "He swam with a whole new level of confidence this year. I think he was just really focused on what he wanted to accomplish and get done. That's his third straight CIF medley relay championship … Namba was such a great leader this year."
Garkani didn't even stick around to see the end of the medley relay. He had to get ready for the 200 freestyle, which he finished second in with a season-best time of 1:39.79. Garkani went on to finish third in the 100 free in 45.47 seconds, just off his school-record time from Thursday's preliminaries.
"I was on [the relay] last year, and we just really want to win it," Garkani said. "It was just a 50-flat for me; I did my best. I didn't even finish watching the race, because I had the 200 free. But [O'Dea] came over and told me that we broke the CIF record … I'm happy to be a part of it."
On the girls' side, CdM junior Brynne Wong had a standout meet. She swam lifetime bests in both of her individual events, finishing third in the 50 free in 23.66 and lowering her own school record. Then she finished a strong second in the 100 fly in 54.38, only behind her friend Katie McLaughlin from JSerra.
"I'm just really happy," said Wong, who also was second in the CIF finals in the fly last year. "[McLaughlin] really pushed me. I was trying to keep the gap between us as small as I could."
The 100 fly also provided a special moment as Brynne's older sister, Natalie, won the consolation final just moments before Brynne swam. Both Wongs swam in Lane 4.
"It was nice," Natalie Wong said. "She was there to cheer me on, then I could get right out and cheer for her."
Natalie Wong also won the consolation final of the 100 back, lowering her own school record to 58.11 seconds. She said she dropped three seconds in the prelims in originally setting the record. The previous record was Jordan Anae's 59.03 in 2002.
"I didn't even know what the record was, and Brynne was like, 'I think you broke the record,'" Natalie Wong said. "I was shocked."
The Sea Kings' Hollace Barden set the school record in the girls' 100 free, winning the consolation final in 51.18 seconds.
The CdM boys also set a school record in the 200 free relay. Garkani, Karas, Marks and Blake Motal finished in 1:23.99, good for third in the race. Newport Harbor's Ryan Fowler, Blake Grove, Ryan Warde and Preston Lee finished 10th, in 1:28.94.
Motal was fourth in the 50 free, in 21.04, and sixth in the 100 free in 46.71. Marks finished eighth in the same race in 21.54. Karas was ninth in the 200 IM, in 1:53.30.
Two Newport Harbor individual swimmers made championship finals in events. Lee was seventh in the 200 freestyle in 1:42.05, which he said was just a tenth of a second off his personal best set at Sunset League finals. Sailors junior Casey Duckworth was 10th in the girls' 500 free, in 5:02.89. The Newport boys' 400 free relay (Tom Fisher, Fowler, Grove and Preston Lee) was sixth in 3:11.93.
CdM freshman Tabitha Krebs was seventh in the girls' diving finals, with 469.90 points. Junior Katherine Meyers was 15th. CdM freshman Chris Sigler also was 15th in the boys' diving competition.
O'Dea credited the coaching staff for a big year, including girls' coach Doug Volding, assistants Stephanie Gabert and Lindsey Schultz and lower-level boys' coach Bill Leach.
"And the water polo boys really came through in CIF this year, more than they have in the last couple years," O'Dea said.
One of them, Marks, said winning the runner-up plaque was a sweet way to end his prep career.
"Me and Namba, it was our last [meet]," Marks said. "I didn't realize the impact until we were actually here; my season's over. My dad told me, 'Even if you don't like swimming, give it all you've got in the pool.' I just wanted to do it for CdM … We wanted to bring back CdM, that we're still a superpower in aquatics. Yeah, we lost to Uni [at league finals], but we can still kick everyone's [behind] at CIF.
"I think everyone had the same mindset – we're here, and we're just going to go for it."