While the CIF Southern Section Division II Swimming and Diving Championships ended in disappointment for the Crescenta Valley High boys' swimming team — by their own ambitious standards, at least — the third-place Falcons didn't let their thoughts linger on defeat for very long.
"We were already talking about it at the [CIF] meet," Crescenta Valley Coach Jan Sakonju said of the Falcons returners' collective vision for an even more impressive campaign next season after claiming the third spot in Division II this year. "It's never too early."
Chief among next year's returning class is junior-to-be Young Tae Seo and if, as Sakonju says, Seo is already locking in on a new set of goals for next season, it can only bode well for the program's overall fortunes.
If it seems implausible that Seo could top his myriad triumphs of the just-completed campaign, which included multiple Pacific League, CIF divisional and Masters Meet titles, one only need note how he was able to one-up his sensational freshman debut in almost every facet this season.
"Freshman year was a brand new year, I didn't know anything that was going on," Seo said. "The big difference [this season] was that my times got faster and I broke school records."
Faster times and school records barely scratch the surface of the depth of Seo's body of work this season.
Between relays and individual events, he won four Pacific League titles (one more than last season), three Division II titles (two more than last year) and made a Masters curtain call that included three Masters medals (one more than last year).
Records fell left and right in Seo's wake, including three total marks obliterated at the Pacific League finals at Burbank High on May 5, where the Falcons clinched their 19th title in a row outright in a landslide, three more smashed at the CIF finals and two new standards set at the Masters Meet.
Seo's freshman debut earned him a unanimous selection as 2010 All-Area Boys' Swimmer of the Year. No one was able to rival Seo's accomplishments this season and, having thoroughly exceeded his own template for dominance, Seo was an easy choice once again for the sportswriters and editors of the Glendale News-Press, Burbank Leader and La Cañada Valley Sun to bestow with the All-Area Boys' Swimmer of the Year honor for the second year in a row.
Sakonju credits Seo's relentless drive to win and conquer new heights for his marked improvement this season.
"Obviously he's talented and he's fast, he wins his events and he's setting league records and division records," Sakonju says. "But I feel I was just privileged to coach him because he's not only got the talent, he's got the work ethic and that to me is such an important component of a champion. I can't think of a single person on the team, or maybe in the history of our program, that has more of a drive to become better than Young Tae."
While improving on last year's runner-up finish at CIF was the stacked Falcons' overriding objective from Day One, the league finals also held significant motivation for Seo and his teammates.
Some long-standing league marks ripe to be taken down, the arrival of one of the deepest, most talented teams the league had ever seen and Seo, a premier athlete consumed by the desire to rewrite history, at the center of it all created a perfect storm of circumstances for Crescenta Valley.
"We knew we had an advantage over the rest of the league and we wanted to take measure not just against our opponents for this year, but opponents from the history of the league," Sakonju says. "We shifted guys around to make sure that we were erasing other schools off of the record books."
By the end of the day, Crescenta Valley had established seven new league records, including Seo's individual swims in the 500-yard freestyle and 100 breaststroke and his role in breaking the record in the 200-freestyle relay.
"That was our main goal, to try and break the [200-freestyle relay] record, so we stacked [our lineup] in the league relays," Seo says. "We broke it and we'll try to break it next year."
Next up was the Division II meet at Belmont Plaza pool in Long Beach on May 14, where Seo and his teammates didn't waste any time in breaking some more records and winning titles, starting with the first event of the day, the 200-medley relay.
While the favored Falcons ultimately fell short of their team goal, finishing behind El Segundo and Murrieta Valley in Division II, Seo's streak of personal success was as impressive as any on the day, as he finished with titles in the 200-individual medley and the 100 breaststroke, establishing meet records in both in the process.
"We had success [this season]," Seo says. "We tried to get first, we tried our best and we got more points than last year for the team.
"I broke CIF records, we'll try to get more next year. It was a success for me and for the whole team."
In his second career appearance at the Masters Meet at Belmont Plaza on May 17, Seo continued his torrid streak in the 200-individual medley and also helped the Falcons win titles in the 200-medley and 400-freestyle relays.
"My best moment was at Mt. SAC [in the] 100 breast," Seo says of his season-best time of 55.69 in the event at the Mt. SAC Invite on Feb. 25. "That's my personal best without tapering. But, especially at CIF, [winning] the 200 IM, all the CIF records and when we broke the 200 free relay [in league].
"Those three were a special moment for me, that was the highlight."
When Seo returns next year, it will be in a slightly different role. He'll still be expected to win races and carry his weight in the pool, but, as an underclassman with some seniority, he will also have to play a role in molding the Falcons' younger swimmers to keep the program moving forward.
"He's actually had a leadership role, but his direction [now] is to be more involved," Sakonju says. "[He will have to] help his teammates, be poolside giving advice working with his teammates to help get them better."
In the end, their position on the podium at CIF finals was the only step backwards for the Falcons between the last two seasons. Seo already has designs on changing that in 2012, as well.
"We lost some seniors this year, but we'll get more club swimmers [next year]," Seo says. "Everyone's motivated. …We're just not going to think next year. This year we were thinking too much, next year we'll just try our best and see what we've got."