RIVERSIDE — In pursuit of its first CIF championship since 2000, the Crescenta Valley High boys’ swimming team had to fight to hold off Damien until the bitter end.
How sweet it was, though, for the Falcons by the end of the epic, meet-deciding 400-yard freestyle relay battle that ended with anchor Young Tae Seo out-touching the Spartans’ Jason Haney by .42 seconds in a photo finish that saw both teams smash the existing meet record.
But there could be only one champion and after several tries and near misses — a runner-up finish in 2010 before last year’s slip to third — it was Crescenta Valley’s turn to hoist the plaque amid a splashy in-pool celebration following Saturday’s CIF Southern Section Division II Swimming and Diving Championships at Riverside Aquatics Center.
“It’s one for the ages,” said Crescenta Valley Coach Jan Sakonju of the 301-293 win over Damien, which clinched his first-ever title. “This is a team that’s the most talented that our school’s ever had. It’s a team that I’ve been lucky enough to have the opportunity to coach and three of the best swimmers that our school’s ever had and that this division’s ever had.”
Crescenta Valley’s veteran trio of Seo, Harrison Thai and Louis Wojciechowski provided the lion’s share of points and collected a total of nine individual and relay titles between them.
Seo won the 500 freestyle in 4 minutes 28.95 seconds and the 100 breaststroke in a mark of 55.91 that was just .10 of a second off his own 2011 meet record. Thai was splendid in winning the 200-individual medley in 1:48.86 and the 100 backstroke in 50.31 and both swimmers teamed with Jake Ksendov and Antonio Camarillo to open the meet with a win in the 200-medley relay in 1:35.51.
“We’re just having fun, not even thinking of winning or losing,” Seo said after exiting the pool following his 500-freestyle win. “We’re just trying to enjoy the meet.”
Wojciechowski, a senior, experienced disappointing runner-up finishes in the 50 freestyle (20.88) and 100 freestyle (45.19), but gave himself plenty to smile about when he swam a blistering 44.32 split on the third leg of the 400-freestyle relay to help himself, Edward, Yi, Thai and Seo win the event in a meet-record 3:05.50.
“It feels awesome to go out my senior year as a champion,” said Wojciechowski, whose Falcons led Damien by just two points going into the final event and needed only to finish before the Spartans to avoid second place or a shared title. “Even though I didn’t win my events, I’m still really happy. We won as a team, that’s all that matters.”
Wojciechowski typically swims the anchor leg of the 400-freestyle, but Sakonju made a switch to give Seo extra time to recoup some of the energy he spent on his breaststroke win moments earlier. Wojciechowski’s leg turned a slight deficit into a slight lead, which Seo held with his 46.01 split.
“I was kind of scared the first 50 [yards], so I tried to have more energy, I was training for distance swimming, not sprinting,” Seo said. “I tried to go as fast as I could the last 25 [yards], no matter what. I don’t care if I die or not. I [wanted to] do whatever I had to do and finish before Damien.”
The Falcons trailed Murrieta Valley by four points and led Damien by seven after the first eight events and had taken a 200-195 lead over Damien for first place after the completion of the 200-freestyle relay, in which the Falcons team of Camarillo, Stephen Woo, Ksendov and Wojciechowski finished sixth in 1:27.57.
Damien had a fourth- and ninth-place finisher in the 100 backstroke, which allowed the Spartans to take a 228-224 lead even though Thai won the event. It was still a nice moment of personal redemption for Thai, who had been touched out in the event at the past two CIF finals. This time it was him winning by .15 of a second over Lakewood’s Daniel McArthur.
“It’s a pretty sweet win for me because I’ve been in it for the last two years and I’ve been out-touched every time,” Thai said. “It’s nice to finally win this one, especially.”
When Seo won the 100 breaststroke and Damien’s Chad Cooper slipped to sixth, the Falcons had the lead back, with some help from Ksendov, who finished 16th in the event in 1:00.31 to offset the consolation points the Spartans got from Trevor Adkins’ 15th-place finish.
The Falcons also got some critical supplemental scoring from Yi, who finished eighth in the 100 butterfly in 52.32 and 10th in the 500 freestyle in 4:49.21.
In the Division I finals meet, which took place Saturday evening at the same venue, Loyola placed third with 289 points with some help from senior Fred Abramyan. The Glendale resident blazed to a win in the 50 freestyle in 20.44 before coming back to claim another title in the 100 freestyle in 44.43.
“It feels good, especially after being out-touched last year in the 100 by .03,” said Abramyan, who was also swam a 19.99 anchor split on the Cubs’ second-place 200-freestyle relay team (1:23.83) and a 44.69 leadoff split on Loyola’s second-place 400-freestyle relay team (3:05.03). “I just like winning, everybody does. I knew it was my year to win and I just had to put it all out there, no turning back.”
While Abramyan put the finishing touches on his high school career, Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy freshman Kirsten Vose continued to impress in her debut campaign by finishing runner-up in the Division I 100 breaststroke in a personal-best 1:03.53. Her efforts led the Tologs to a 14th-place finish with 105 points.
“I was just trying to go fast,” said Vose, who trailed coming out of the last turn, but was able to mount a push to finish just .75 seconds behind University’s Maggie Burton. “I was just trying to get under 1:04. I was going to try my best [to catch Burton], but I didn’t really think [I could]. I was just trying to focus on my own race.”
Sacred Heart got its day off to a smashing start, casting off its No. 6 seeding to finish second in the 200-medley relay in 1:48.03 thanks in large part to a surge in the breaststroke from Vose — her 29.25 split was the fastest in the race — and a strong finish from freestyler Emily Balog.
Altmayer, Balog, Ryan and Vose took ninth in the 200-freestyle relay in 1:39.40.
Altmayer finished 14th in the 100 butterfly in 57.72 and Balog was 14th in the 100 breaststroke in 1:06.89.
In Division II, Glendale senior Mickey Mowry just missed a chance to become the first Nitro boys’ swimmer since Mark Chatfield in 1971 to win a CIF title when he finished runner-up to Murrieta Valley’s Brandon Porter by .16 of a second in the 100 butterfly, in which he was the top seed.
“I was pretty disappointed, it’s really hard racing when you’re not shaved or tapered,” said Mowry, who is preparing for the upcoming Grand Challenge, a long-course Olympic trials qualifier meet. “It’s still a best time for me, but at the same time, it’s so frustrating getting out-touched.
“It was a great race. …I wish I came in first, though.”
Mowry, who was the only entrant for the Nitros boys (23rd, 37 points) also finished seventh in the 200 freestyle in 1:42.96.
The other big runner-up local finish of the day in Division II belonged to Flintridge Prep freshman diver Madi Witt, who took second with a score of 538.80.
Witt led for most of the competition, including a four-point lead heading into the final round and 69-point lead after her final dive, but was upstaged by Pasadena Poly junior Annika Lenz, who finished with 545.25 points to claim her third straight title.
“I'm really proud of Anni, I know how hard she works, I worked really hard, too,” Witt said. “I'm glad with the outcome, she deserved it.
“I gave it my all and gave all I could do.”
In the final Division II girls’ standings, Crescenta Valley finished 16th with 78 points, led by Iva Icheva’s eighth-place finish in the 50 freestyle (24.82) and seventh-place finish in the 100 backstroke (59.56).
“Prelims were much better,” Icheva said. My legs feel like they kind of gave in. You have good races and bad races, so I’ve just got to take it and work on it.”
The Falcons also got a 10th-place finish in the 100 breaststroke from Sabrina Hatzer and two consolation relay finishes. Icheva, Hatzer, Nayiri Keshishyan and Jesse Gabor were 11th in the 200-medley relay (1:52.71) and Icheva, Gabor, Hatzer and Heather Abrams took 15th in the 200-freestyle relay (1:43.16).
Prep, which also got 16 points from freshman diver Kyla Bradley, who finished seventh with a score of 398.80, placed 28th overall with 37 points.
Burbank’s boys’ team finished 39th in Division II with 21 points. Alex Lambert finished 10th in the 100 freestyle (48.00) and then turned in a 13th-place finish in the 200 freestyle (1:46.97).
Burroughs’ boys’ team finished 50th in Division II with eight points from Chris Reithel’s19th-place finish in the 50 freestyle (22.62) and the 18th-place finish in the 200-freestyle relay turned in by Casey Ueno, Skyler Winkler, Kevin Ueno and Reithel (1:30.72).
The Indians’ girls’ team was 53rd in Division II with seven points turned in by Michaela Salinas in the 200 freestyle (20th, 1:59.68) and 500 freestyle (15th, 5:11.39).