Something was noticeably missing from the area's high school swimming scene last season when one of its brightest stars in recent memory, Andrea Kropp, took a year off from competing for the Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy swimming team.
Apparently, something was missing for Kropp, too, during her absence from Mission League and CIF meets.
"I really missed swimming my junior year," Kropp says. "It was a really hard decision [not to swim].
"Coming back for my senior year wasn't even a question. I was like, 'I have to swim.'"
It was exciting news for the Tologs, particularly for incoming Coach Steve Bergen.
"When I took the job, I was certainly hopeful she was going to come back, but I didn't know," Bergen says. "By November, she had let me know she was going to come back and swim her senior year. As a school community, we were overjoyed with that."
Sacred Heart began the season with high anticipation of the success the return of its star swimmer would bring, and Kropp didn't disappoint.
The 2007 All-Area Girls' Swimmer of the Year, who led the Tologs to a runner-up finish in CIF Southern Section Division II and won three total CIF titles her freshman year before returning to spearhead a second straight undefeated league title as a sophomore, certainly hadn't forgotten how to win at the prep level.
"I was pretty confident I would be able to mesh back into the team," Kropp says. "I was just really excited more than anything."
Kropp's value to her team this year was immeasurable, but most clearly defined by the Tologs' ascendance back to the top of the Mission League, where they had finished runner-up to Alemany the year before.
And as an individual, Kropp reasserted herself anew at every meet she competed in, all the way to the CIF Division I meet on May 14, where she impressively added one last CIF crown to her collection.
For these accomplishments, Kropp was unanimously voted 2010 All-Area Girls' Swimmer of the Year by the sportswriters and editors of the Glendale News-Press, La Cañada Valley Sun and Burbank Leader.
"I honestly don't think I could have improved on anything," says Kropp, who this season broke school records in the 200-yard individual medley, 100 butterfly and 50 freestyle, as well as her own mark in the 200 breaststroke. "I felt completely happy with what I did."
It had been two years since Kropp had competed at Long Beach's Belmont Plaza pool, the annual site of the CIF Swimming and Diving Championships, and in her last appearance there, she was shut out in the title chase in her four events.
But Kropp made sure that wouldn't be the case her senior year, following up a third-place finish in the 200 IM in a season-best 2 minutes .43 seconds with a win in the 100 breaststroke in 1:01.23.
"I felt like I was finally back where I belonged," Kropp says of restoring her past glory at Belmont Plaza. "It was just amazing."
In the Mission League, the Tologs were able to get back to where they felt they belonged, as well, sharing the title with Harvard-Westlake. The return of Kropp helped offset the significant preseason loss of injured senior standout Brianna Swinney for the season.
"I knew we were going to have a lot of depth, but we didn't necessarily have a lot of all-star power with Brianna Swinney out for the season," Bergen said. "With Andrea coming back, it kind of gave us that all-star that obviously helped us win a league championship and helped us do very well at CIF, as well.
"Alemany had been the defending [league] champion and Harvard is always Harvard-Westlake, and you have to have somebody like [Kropp] to be able to compete. Between [Chaminade's] Meghan Hawthorne and [Alemany's] Heidi Ziegler and [Harvard-Westlake's] Alex Edel and all these girls all over the league, it would have been very difficult for us to compete the way we did without Andrea."
Despite a loss to Alemany early in the season, Sacred Heart found itself in a four-way tie in league going into the last league meet of the year when the Warriors forfeited their win over the Tologs due to an eligibility violation.
Behind solo wins in the 100 butterfly and 100 breaststroke from Kropp, who also keyed two relay wins, Sacred Heart clinched the co-championship with a dominant 117-59 win over Sherman Oaks Notre Dame on April 22.
When it came time to claim individual league titles in the league finals meet on May 3, Kropp made her mark once again.
She won titles in the 200 IM and 100 breaststroke for the seventh and eighth league titles of her career.
"She got better [at the end of the year] and that's what I try and instill in the girls," Bergen says, "that it's great to swim well during the year, but the best swimmers do it when it matters the most and that's what Andrea did.
"She definitely saves her best for when it matters the most. When we needed her to step up the most, that's what she did, and I think that's a great lesson for our younger girls to be able to learn from."