CdM's Karas puts on a show

Top swims in high school swimming do not happen in a vacuum.

Take away University High junior Corey Okubo, and CdM junior Liam Karas would currently be the Orange County record-holder in the 200-yard individual medley.

Of course, take away Okubo and you'd rob swimmers, coaches and fans of perhaps the most exciting race at last weekend's CIF Southern Section Division 1 finals. Okubo and Karas, the two Aquazot club swimmers, put on quite a show.

Okubo had set the county record in the event with a 1:48.02 at Pacific Coast League finals. The previous county record was a 1:48.83 by Sonora's Darren Ward in 1987.

Karas swam a 1:51.24 at PCL finals, good for second place. Okubo was the heavy favorite going into CIF finals, and deservedly so.

The Uni swimmer built up a sizable lead of nearly a second after the butterfly and the backstroke. But wait, who was this guy coming on strong in the breaststroke?

That guy was Karas, who actually led by seven-hundredths of a second heading into the freestyle leg. Okubo edged out the race in 1:47.07, but Karas also finished well below the previous county record in a school-record time of 1:47.33.

CdM Coach Barry O'Dea called it one of the most exciting races he's ever seen in high school swimming. Karas, the Daily Pilot Athlete of the Week, called it probably the best race he's ever swam.

"I knew that he has a very strong front half," Karas said. "Mine's OK compared to his, but his backstroke is just so fast. I tried to keep up with him on the fly. I knew he was going to beat me in the backstroke, but the breaststroke is what I've been working on a lot. That's where I planned to catch up, and I did. The free was whoever had the most left in the tank."

Karas still had plenty in the tank at CIF finals. He went on to finish third in the 100 free in a lifetime-best 45.76, part of a three-four-five finish for CdM with seniors Christian Garkani and Blake Motal.

He was also on the second-place 200 free relay team, and he swam leadoff on the second-place 400 free relay team. The latter team, also including Jack Harryman, Tyler Lin and Richie Barden, touched in another school record of 3:05.53.

Karas' versatility helped CdM finish second in Division 1 for the second straight year. Not bad for the junior, but nothing new. He has been swimming competitively since the third grade, when he was shown the Aquazot club team by current CdM swimmers Justin and Tim Hanson.

"In fifth grade I had to choose between swimming and baseball, and I chose swimming," Karas said.

The Sea Kings aquatics program can be glad he made that decision. Ever since arriving in high school, he has done whatever was needed to help the team. The individual medley has been a consistent race, but his freshman year he swam backstroke a lot. Last year, Karas swam more distance freestyle.

At league finals this year, he swam breaststroke to try to help the Sea Kings.

"We knew Uni had a very strong breaststroke," Karas said. "The way I swam breaststroke against Newport Harbor, it put me up there."

Karas definitely is a dedicated club swimmer, but he's dedicated to the Sea Kings as well. He's in O'Dea's first-period English class, and coach and student-athlete have been known to talk strategy at that time.

O'Dea still needs to thank Aquazot head coach Brian Pajer. Many of CdM's top swimmers, like Karas, Garkani, Lin and the Hanson brothers, swim at Aquazot. Then again, Harryman, Motal and Barden are all water polo players.

It creates an interesting dynamic for the Sea Kings. But any way you look at it, Karas is a big piece, and he still has a year left of high school swimming.

"He's really matured, he's developed, and with all of that comes a little bit more confidence and a little more wherewithal about who he is," O'Dea said. "He's embraced that, and that's a big deal. When you can embrace who you are and what your role is, and really expand on it, it says a lot about the character of a kid like that."

Karas dropped four seconds in his 200 IM time in just a week. It leaves him excited for the club long-course season, which includes Junior Nationals at Irvine's Woollett Aquatics Center Aug. 5-9.

"This will be my first Junior Nationals," said Karas, who doesn't necessarily have to feel nervous about that.

After all, he has consistently shown the ability to adapt.


Liam Karas

Born: Jan. 27, 1996

Hometown: Newport Beach

Height: 6-foot-1

Weight: 170 pounds

Sport: Swimming

Year: Junior

Coach: Barry O'Dea

Favorite food: Hamburgers

Favorite movie: "Casino Royale"

Favorite athletic moment: Racing University's Corey Okubo in a thrilling 200-yard individual medley race at the CIF Southern Section Division 1 finals.

Week in review: Karas was second in the 200-yard individual medley and third in the 100 freestyle at the Division 1 finals at Riverside City College, also swimming on the second-place 200 and 400 freestyle relay teams. He helped CdM's boys finish second in Division 1 for the second straight year.

Copyright © 2019, Daily Pilot
EDITION: California | U.S. & World