Swimming Preview: Vose, Tologs looking for another stellar season

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 it is 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-freestlye 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, the reigning All-Area Girls' Swimmer 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.

Campbell comes from a locally well-known family of swimmers, as her older sisters Katie, now at UCLA, and Sammie, a high school senior, have both starred at La Cañada High.

"We're lucky to have her on our team," Bergen said of Christina Campbell. "She obviously has a strong pedigree."

Caitlin Smith (butterfly, backstroke) 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."

LA CAÑADA

Until a drop back down to Division II next season brings some relief, the Spartans boys' team is focused on holding its ground in Division 1 this season.

That means shooting for another top-10 finish after placing 10th last season. That's always an ambitious goal even in the best of times, and the Spartans come into this season with a few question marks.

La Cañada lost two seniors in breaststroke standout Brandon Nguyen and butterfly specialist Symeon Stefan and both figure to be missed in the big meets.

"We're hoping to stay within the top 10, but it gets more and more difficult every year," Lopez said.

In his senior season, Nguyen broke a 21-year-old Rio Hondo League record in the 100 breaststroke before finishing seventh in the event at CIF. He also placed sixth in the 200 IM at CIF.

"This year we're hoping to develop some existing talent to take those spots, but nobody can take Brandon's spot," Spartans Coach Art Lopez said. "We're going to try to pick up in different events like the freestyle to try to offset Brandon's graduation."

Senior Shane Bell (breaststroke) and junior Matt Varraveto (500 free, 200 IM) are projected to be the top swimmers this season, supported by depth from senior Jeff Lee (50 free), sophomore Sean Lee (free) and junior Kevin Sung (50 free).

Lopez likes the Spartans' chances of picking up their 14th straight Rio Hondo League title, with the biggest challenge once again coming from San Marino.

"We still should do very well in league," Lopez said. "It will all come down to San Marino and they are of course at the end of the season, which is good. It will get us all revved up and ready to go."

The Spartans girls' team will look to be more competitive in the Rio Hondo League and reestablish a presence at the CIF meet under Coach Renata Martinez.

The team's top returner is two-time reigning Rio Hondo League backstroke champion Samantha Campbell, who is a senior.

FLINTRIDGE PREP

The Rebels boys' and girls' programs enter the season under new leadership, as longtime Rebels boys' cross-country coach Ingrid Herskind takes over for Ryan Goto.

Herskind, a former NCAA Division 1 swimmer at Brown, has coached the Rebels boys' runners into a perennial CIF divisional and state contender over the past decade and change and now hopes to help the Rebels' aquatics programs become consistent players, as well.

The boys are looking to defend their Prep League title and also move up the ladder a bit in Division III, where they finished third last year after making the welcome drop down from Division II.

"We had a really good year last year," Herskind said. "We really struggled in Division II, so last year was definitely a much better placement for the league."

The graduated Bruce Park will be missed, but the Rebels' top overall swimmer from last year, senior Marco Flores, is back along with fellow seniors Carlo Sivilotti and Ethan Vendeventer, who bring speed and stamina from the water polo program.

Big things are expected of freshman Andy Langan, brother of senior Prep girls' standout Jennifer Langan, in his high school debut this season.

"Our goal is we would like to at least get in the top five at CIF," Herskind said. "I think we can even do better, but we will just put it at that."

The Rebels' girls program, however, 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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