Girls' swimming preview: Star power, depth fueling Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy

During coach Steve Bergen’s current tenure, now entering its fifth season, the Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy swimming team has made quantum leaps of improvement from year to year, placing 34th in CIF Southern Section Division 1 three years ago, 14th the next and vaulting all the way to seventh last season.

Perhaps just as impressive has been the Tologs’ return to sustained preeminence in the elite Mission League, where they are coming off back-to-back championships.

With both youth and experience on its side, the renaissance is primed to roll on, as Sacred Heart would appear to have enough depth and star power on its roster to not only sustain its current footing, but perhaps push its way back into the running for its first Division 1 title since 2007 over the next couple of seasons.

“We have great expectations,” Bergen said. “We had a great season last year and obviously we’re deeper this year, so we’re looking at some great things.”

The 200-yard medley and 200-freestyle relays were two of the Tologs’ major point-scoring weapons in their breakthrough into the top 10 in Division 1 last season, with the former winning a title and the latter placing fourth.

2013 graduate Emily Balog was a member of both of those teams, but she is really the only significant loss Bergen can claim. Senior Katie Altmayer, junior Kirsten Vose and sophomore Kate Herrill are all back to reprise their roles in the relays and each holds the potential to qualify for finals heats in individual events, as well.

Vose, last year’s All-Area Girls’ Swimmer of the Year and News-Press Female Athlete of the Year, is the reigning Division 1 100 breaststroke champion and junior diver Caroline Bender can contribute important points at CIF.

Last season, the Tologs’ one weak area was distance and middle distance, but the arrival of freshmen Emma Mass and Christina Campbell, who both specialize in the 200- and 500 freestyle, should eliminate that vulnerability.

Caitlin Smith is another freshman addition expected to contribute this season.

“Our depth is unlike anything we’ve ever had,” said Bergen, who believes Louisville and Harvard-Westlake will be the top challengers in the Mission League this season. “In dual meets we’re going to be extremely tough to beat. We had our star power at the top and now we have terrific depth.”

Crescenta Valley enjoyed a fifth-place finish in Division II last season.

Second-year Falcons Coach Brent Danna has most of his top swimmers back, including reigning Division II 100 freestyle champion Heather McDougal and multiple CIF championship finalist Iva Icheva.

“We'll have a better idea about our team after a few meets,” Danna said. “We took fifth in Division II last year, but I don't know much about the division right now.”

McDougal and Icheva will reprise their roles on the 200 IM and 400-freestyle relay teams, which both placed third in CIF. But the Falcons lost a key member of both in butterfly specialist Tiare Coker, who moved to China.

“It's a big hit losing a swimmer of Tiare's caliber,” Danna said.

Crescenta Valley also captured its sixth straight Pacific League title last year.

One of the challengers for the Falcons’ league crown will be a Glendale squad that coach Forest Holbrook said has a strong core of experience.

Seniors Melani Aghazarian and Naira Sarkian and juniors Rima Gasparyan and Vehik Golabi will look to fill the void left by graduated seniors Biyouregh Boghozian and Maddie Corpuz.

Flintridge Prep enters the season under new leadership, as longtime Rebels boys’ cross-country coach Ingrid Herskind takes over for Ryan Goto.

But while the Rebels’ harriers have long enjoyed the status of a Prep League power, the swimming program is in much more of a building phase.

“We just don’t have the numbers to fill the pool and that was our problem last year, as well,” Herskind said. “We’re trying to build up our aquatics, with our girls’ water polo too, and I’m hoping maybe they can kind of work hand in hand. That’s our goal the next couple of years.”

The Rebels will face an uphill battle in trying to move up from last year’s fifth-place finish in league, but have several swimmers with good chances of qualifying for the Division III finals.

Chief among them is senior Jennifer Langan, who placed third in the 200 freestyle and sixth in the 100 freestyle last season.

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