CORONA DEL MAR — Christian Garkani is headed to the University of Louisville next year, and the Corona del Mar High senior is well aware that the Cardinals are the top overall seed in this year's NCAA men's basketball tournament.
"It's pretty cool, and I like basketball a lot so it's good," Garkani said. "Of course [I'll be watching]. My friends were like, 'You've got to make a bracket and put Louisville first.'"
Garkani said he didn't plan to fill out a bracket until Thursday night, acknowledging he was late since the first day of games already was over. He has been plenty busy this week, with the CdM boys' swim team hosting big meets on back-to-back days.
Louisville won its first tournament game Thursday afternoon, easily defeating North Carolina A&T.; At about the same time, the Sea Kings were hosting their own swimming version of March Madness, a quad meet against Capistrano Valley, Los Angeles Loyola and Edison. The four teams were the top four finishers at last year's CIF Southern Section Division 1 finals.
Loyola finished first at the meet, which used CIF finals scoring, with 413.5 points. But CdM finished a strong second with 322 points, ahead of defending Division 1 champion Capo Valley (315). Edison was a distant fourth with 165.5 points.
Corona del Mar has had tri-meets with Loyola and Capo Valley in the past, but those meets were scored as dual meets rather than using CIF scoring. CdM, which finished second last year at Division 1 finals, felt it gained momentum from Thursday's meet.
"We haven't won [CIF] in my career at CdM, but I would like to do it this senior year," Garkani said. "I think we definitely can. Liam Karas is stepping up a lot, and he's only a junior. And Blake Motal is still going fast in the 50 [free]. I think we still have a good chance. Anything can happen at CIF, and I still think we're definitely top contenders."
Garkani contributed big. He won the 100-yard freestyle in 46.40 seconds, followed by Karas in second in 47.25. Garkani also took the 200 free in 1:40.88, an All-American consideration time. He said both times were season-bests and he also led off the 200 medley relay, which touched in another All-American consideration time of 1:34.89. Garkani, Tyler Lin, Justin Hanson and Motal were edged by Loyola (1:34.72).
CdM Coach Barry O'Dea did not give his team a fiery pep talk before Thursday's meet, like he did before Wednesday's 90-80 Pacific Coast League loss to University. But his words may have hit home.
"They got asked to decide what kind of team they wanted to be," O'Dea said. "Do they want to be a team that shows up to compete, or just go out here and go through the motions? I said what they showed me today would be their decision, and they showed me they wanted to compete.
"We had guys, other than my club swimmers, step up and do some interesting things today. That's what we were lacking [against Uni], so I'm happy about that."
O'Dea highlighted senior water polo players Jack Harryman and Reid Chase, who impressed in freestyle relays. Chase also went a 49.86 in the 100 free.
Event winners for CdM also included Karas, who won the 200 individual medley in 1:51.58, an All-American consideration time. Lin finished in second in the 100 breaststroke in 57.77, also an All-American consideration time, and Motal went 21.48 in the 50 free. That was good for second place behind Loyola's Corey John (21.22).
CdM sophomore Justin Hanson was third in the butterfly (51.95) and fourth in the individual medley (1:56.46).
"I know my guys don't like to lose," O'Dea said. "I wouldn't say that they were bummed, but I think they knew that they didn't do as well as they could have [against Uni]. I think they came better prepared to compete today."
The question was asked near the end of the meet, who deserves to be called the top team in Orange County? O'Dea said it's still Capo Valley, until someone else can take its Division 1 title. Capo Valley Coach Steve Yancey had his team, which won its fifth straight Millikan Southern Section Relays last weekend, battling sickness Thursday. Top swimmer Jack DesCombes, bound for Stanford, competed but was not feeling well.
"It wasn't a dual meet, so I don't know what to say," Yancey said. "What we wanted to do with that meet was make it a preseason CIF championship … until today, we had proven that we were the best team. This meet, we always struggle. I don't see any reason why Uni wouldn't go to No. 1 after beating CdM, and I don't see any reason why we wouldn't stay [at No. 1]. Maybe a tie.
"It'll get solved on May 11 [at CIF finals at Riverside City College]. The very first time we had this meet, CdM beat us at our place … It's who wears the ring, and we won [at CIF]."
That's a point that none of the Sea Kings, who are looking for their first CIF title since 1970, would argue. O'Dea said Thursday's meet was "not the end-all, be-all."
"It's a good measuring stick," O'Dea said. "This meet is perfect for that whole idea of measuring to see where we're at, and where we need to be. We tend to get there, so we'll see. Hopefully it happens again … [but] it was a good day for the Sea Kings."