Rio Hondo League split between Spartans, Tigers

SOUTH PASADENA — Robert Echeverria tried to avoid being pushed into South Pasadena High's the pool Thursday.

When it came down it, the coach of the South Pasadena High girls' swimming team wouldn't have had it any other way after his Tigers defeated La Cañada, 94-76, to claim their first outright Rio Hondo League title in four years — snapping the Spartans' four-year run with at least a share of the championship, as both teams shared the title with San Marino last year.

"Last year was a little bitter, but it was a way of motivating these girls," said Echeverria, whose team finished with a 5-0 league record. "Overall, I think they stepped up to the challenge and demonstrated how good we are, and with the help of a lot of young, incoming freshmen our team got even stronger."

La Cañada's boys also earned its 11th straight league championship with a commanding 119-51 victory over South Pasadena (4-1 in league) by winning all 11 races.

South Pas' girls were led by Liza Echeverria, who won the 100 butterfly and 100 breaststroke in 1 minutes 2.12 seconds and 1:10.90, respectively.

Echeverria helped deliver another Tigers title when she teamed with Kate Iio, Samantha Zavala and freshman Grace Wakabayashi, who also won the 200 individual medley in 2:22.95, in the 200 medley relay (1:58.44).

"Our team's focus was to get a Rio Hondo League championship and we just worked hard everyday to get it," Liza Echeverria said. "Being tri-champions last year, we wanted to get our own title this year."

Despite the team loss, the Spartans nabbed wins in seven of the 11 events Thursday and denied South Pasadena's 200 freestyle relay team a victory, as La Cañada's quartet edged the Tigers by .01 of a second with a time of 1:45.20.

La Cañada's 200 free relay team, like the rest of the Spartans, was boosted by the return of Katy Campbell, who missed most of the season due to Olympic trial competition.

Campbell joined Sarah Olson, sister Samantha Campbell and Rachel Wong in the 200 freestyle relay and the same foursome captured the 400 freestyle relay (3:55.01).

The senior also delivered two individual victories in the 200 (1:55.70) and 500 freestyles (5:13.40).

Olson had two wins for her own in the 50 (24.70) and 100 freestyles (57.50).

Samantha Campbell provided La Cañada's final win in the 100 backstroke in 1:03.60.

"We swam well today, but we needed to swim amazing," La Cañada Coach Kristen Dronberger said. "You can't swim good in a meet you need to swim great. I am looking forward to next week [and the league finals]."

There was plenty of drama heading into Thursday for the boys, which La Cañada Coach Art Lopez could live without.

"The pressure is off now because you never know what can happen — a DQ, someone missing an event or some catastrophe, which seems to be my life this year," said Lopez, who saw his team finish with a perfect 5-0 league record. "Now it's like OK, whew, we've made it another league championship."

La Cañada's boys got a boost from the return of Bo Mattix, who won the 100 butterfly in 55.25 and teamed with Peter Loakes, Garrett Chin and Brandon Nguyen for victories in the 400 and 200 freestyle relays (1:30.18).

"I am very proud of the boys because we have won the league season as an uncompleted team between illness and this and that and the other," said Lopez of Mattix's return from Olympic trial competition. "It felt good that we were all together for the last meet to win it all together."

Chin and Nguyen also won two individual races with Chin touching the wall first in the 100 backstroke and 200 individual medley in 56.60 and 2:02.60, respectively.

"[Our relay teams] haven't swam together at least once yet," Chin said. "This is going to be our teams for CIF so we finally got to practice. …It feels good [winning a league title]. We have been winners for I don't know how long — pretty long — so we just expected to continue our run."

Nguyen won the 200 freestyle (1:47.85) and 100 breaststroke (59.70) against the Tigers (4-1).

Loakes also picked up a victory in the 50 free (23.67) for the Spartans, who won the 500 free in 4:59.44 thanks to Dane Bell and saw Brad Cavanagh win the 100 free in 52.48.

Loakes, Shane Bell, Stephen Kim and Symeon Stefan delivered La Cañada's final win in the 200 medley relay (1:47.15).

andrew.shortall@latimes.com

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