Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - May 10, 2013

New era of swim stars is surfacing

Paly's Liang, SHP's Howe and Gunn's Campbell looking to pick up where Tosky, Kremer and Acker left off

by Keith Peters

When the final race was done and the last of the medals handed out at the 2012 Central Coast Section Swimming and Diving Championships, a special era was brought to a close.

Gone from the local scene were Palo Alto's Jasmine Tosky, Gunn's Rachael Acker and Sacred Heart Prep's Tom Kremer. Between them, they won six individual titles and accounted for five section records (one of them tied) in last year's meet.

Acker also swam on two winning relays that helped the Gunn girls win their first-ever CCS team title in the sport. A year earlier, Tosky set a national public schools record in the 100 fly.

Tosky finished her career with eight individual CCS titles, Kremer had six and Acker had five overall, including three relays.

While all three swimmers have moved on — Tosky to USC, Kremer to Stanford and Acker to Cal where she won an NCAA title — three more swimmers from the same schools are ready to leave their mark on the 2013 meet set for this weekend at the George F. Haines International Swim Center in Santa Clara.

The "newcomers" include Palo Alto junior Andrew Liang, Sacred Heart Prep junior Ally Howe and Gunn sophomore Jenna Campbell.

Of the three, only Howe has won a section title. Make that two — the 100 back in each of the past two CCS meets.

Liang, however, is the top seed in both the 50 free and 100 fly while Campbell is seeded No. 2 in the 200 free and No. 3 in the 500 free. Howe, meanwhile, is No. 1 in the 100 back and No. 4 in the 200 IM.

Moreover, all three are coming off respective league championship meets where they helped their teams capture team championships. All three won two individual titles and swam on a combined five winning relays.

Palo Alto coach Danny Dye said Liang was close to a breakthrough season last year while taking second in the 50 free and 100 fly.

"He should have won the 50 last year (losing to Bellarmine's Mitchell Hamilton, 20.87 to 20.92). He just got out-touched," Dye said. "In the fly, he made a nice run at it. This year, it has all come together. He has another year of experience and maturity, so he has a couple of years to really shine at CCS."

At the SCVAL De Anza Division finals last Friday at Paly, Liang won the 50 free in a school-record 20.59, won the 100 fly in a school-record in 47.88 (third-fastest time in CCS history) — breaking the oldest meet record (49.10) set by the legendary Mark Spitz in 1967 — in addition to anchoring the 200 free relay team to a 1:26.21 victory for school and meet records. To top it all off, Liang clocked a sizzling 44.58 anchor to help the Vikings win the 400 free relay in 3:10.57.

Not too surprising, the Palo Alto boys successfully defended their league meet title.

Howe was nearly as successful in the record-breaking department at the West Bay Athletic League finals last week in the Gators' pool. She won the 50 free in 22.81 to set school and meet records, won the 100 back in a meet record of 53.57, led off the 200 medley relay that went 1:48.29 for another league mark and anchored the 400 free relay to victory (3:44.02) with a fast 50.32 time.

Howe's 50 free and 100 back times were automatic All-American times. The 50 is also one of the fastest in CCS history, but Howe will swim the 200 IM and 100 back at CCS.

"The 200 IM is loaded with fast swimmers," said SHP coach Kevin Morris. "It's probably the strongest girls' event, top to bottom, and anything can happen. But, Ally has been swimming so well. It actually won't surprise me if a few people went under Jasmine Tosky's CCS record (1:57.94), which (wow!), seemed inconceivable to even think a few years ago.

"In the 100 back, Ally is probably more of a clear favorite, and she has an outside chance of breaking the national private schools record of 52.30, held by (2012 U.S. Olympian) Missy Franklin. She (Howe) went 53.57 at the WBAL meet untapered, having gone to practice that morning."

Howe won the 100 back at CCS last season in 53.12, setting a section record of 53.11 in the prelims. She took second in the 200 IM in 1:58.61, a school record.

Gunn's Campbell, meanwhile, is ready to step out of Acker's considerable shadow from last season.

"Jennifer is indeed Rachael's heir apparent," said Gunn coach Mark Hernandez. "She's someone who a program can build around, not just because she's so proficient, but because her skills are in high demand. Elite distances swimmers are hard to come by, and nearly impossible to create in the span of a high school career, so having her be so consistently excellent in her field takes many worries from her coaches' minds.

"Of course, it's also great that she's as polished and proficient as she is at such a young age. Last year, she was one of the better swimmers in the section — as a ninth-grader. This year she's ready to become — and very much wants to be — one of the dominant swimmers in the section."

At the De Anza Division finals, Campbell's performance could be summed up as understated. She won the 200 free by nearly eight seconds in 1:50.78 and later took the 500 free by 19 seconds in 4:59.00. Hernandez said she needed only a third gear to win comfortably. She also swam a leg on the winning 200 medley relay (1:48.44) and led off the 400 free relay that led until the final leg and finished second

in 3:31.88.

Most important, Campbell's efforts help the Gunn girls win their first-ever league championship after taking the dual-meet and CCS titles last season.

Clearly, the spotlight will be on Liang, Howe and Campbell at CCS. And, just at clearly, all three are ready to take their bows.

The Paly boys will be out to end Bellarmine's streak of 28 straight section titles with what Dye says "is the best team I've ever taken to CCS." The Vikings scored 218 points last season to finish second to the Bells (389.5), but are deeper and have potentially more championship points than last year with William Lee, Alex Francis, Winston Wang, Andrew Cho and divers Cole Plambeck and Reed Merrit, among others.

The Sacred Heart Prep boys will be hard-pressed to duplicate last season's third-place finish now that Bret Hinrichs is out with a shoulder injury. Morris will bank on Harrison Enright, Chris Hinrichs and Scott Jollymour to have big meets.

Gunn has senior Tommy Tai and freshman Daichi Matsuda (ranked No. 1 in the 500 free) to lead the way after finishing 14th in 2012.

On the girls' side, Hernandez sees Monta Vista as the team favorite.

"I think, barring disaster, we'll be somewhere in the top four. If our non-Jenna swimmers do well, we certainly have at least a puncher's chance of repeating. But, we''l have to do great and need a few breaks."

Palo Alto was third and Sacred Heart Prep seventh last year, but both could be surpassed by Menlo-Atherton. The Bears are coming off a standout effort at the PAL Bay Division Championships and certainly look to be a top-10 team.

In league meet highlights from last week:

The titles went to the Palo Alto boys and Gunn girls at the SCVAL De Anza Division finals, but the highlight reel belonged to Liang with all his record-breaking.

"It's just a good indication of the season, and of the work I've put in," Liang said of breaking the mark held by Spitz. "It just shows I'm at a good place right now. It will be interesting to see what I can do at CCS."

Liang had no knowledge of the Spitz record until Dye informed him of the possible historical opportunities during lunch on Friday.

"It's history. It's tradition," Dye said of the old marks. I wanted him to realize that he could try and be a part of something special. I guess it was part motivation, but when you can say you're better than Mark Spitz, that's saying something. Now he's jazzed and he knows where he stands."

For those with short memories, Spitz had a pretty good Olympics in 1972 when he brought home seven gold medals.

Paly scored 491 points with Monta Vista second with 390 and Gunn third with 320.

The Vikings won all three relays — taking the opening 200 medley in 1:37.32 to get things rolling — before getting a pair of wins from Lee in the 200 IM (1:53.57) and 100 back (50.36), the latter race breaking his own meet and school records.

Lee also swam on the winning 200 free and 400 free relay teams. Merrit won the 1-meter diving on Tuesday with 504.70 point, missing the school record by less than one point.

Gunn was led by Matsuda, who won the 500 free with a school record of 4:34.31. He also swam second to Liang's record-breaking 100 fly, clocking a 51.59 —second-best in Gunn history. Tai broke his own school record in the 100 breast while finishing third in 58.91.

The Gunn girls, who tied with Monta Vista during the dual-meet season, needed only to beat the Matadors to claim their first-ever overall league championship. The Titans did just that by scoring 455 points. Palo Alto was second with 426 and Monta Vista third with 418.

"This is more of a testament to the program," Hernandez said "We got it done with our third and fourth swimmers . . . We lost five CCS scorers off last year's team."

Junior Gabrielle Bethke of Gunn clocked a season best of 23.94 to finish third in the 50 free and clocked another solid time of 52.38 to finish second in the 100 free. Senior Crystal Feri added a third place of 1:07.81 in the 100 breast and freshman Vivian Zhou was third in diving on Tuesday.

The Titans were tied with Paly at 372 following the 100 back, but outscored the Vikings by 49-24 in the next event — the 100 breast — to take a 421-396 lead into the final relay.

Palo Alto had a pair of victories, junior Jayna Wittenbrink taking the 100 fly in a season best of 56.42 and freshman Mimi Lin in diving with 462.20 points. Serena Yee was second in diving, with Molly Zebker third in both the 200 IM (2:09.24) and 100 fly (58.68). Paly also was third in the 200 free relay in 1:40.97.

For Palo Alto, its streak of 10 straight league meet titles came to an end. The Vikings had won 16 of the previous 18 championships. Gunn, meanwhile, ended its streak of finishing second three straight year.

At the PAL Bay Division finals at Burlingame High on Saturday, the M-A girls backed up their perfect dual-meet season by splashing to victory.

The Bears set four school and two meet records on the way to compiling a whopping 597 points to hold off regular-season runner-up and defending league champ Burlingame (490).

The M-A boys, meanwhile, went down to the final 400 free relay before falling to dual-meet champion Burlingame, 465-453, in one of the closest meets ever.

Menlo-Atherton also won the boys' and girls' frosh-soph titles as first-year head coach Lori Stenstrom had plenty to celebrate.

The M-A girls won six events, three of them relays for a total of 160 points right there. Freshman Brooke Stenstrom — daughter of the head coach — had a very big hand in half those points as she won the 50 free, 100 free and anchored the 200 medley and 400 free relays to victory.

In the opening 200 medley relay, M-A's Nicole Zanolli, Maddie Pont and Kindle Van Linge (all juniors) set the table for Stenstrom's anchor to bring the Bears home in 1:46.89, breaking the school record set in 2005.

In the 50 free, Stenstrom set meet and school marks with her 23.54 victory. That erased the previous M-A record of 23.57 by Mary Edwards in 1988, the oldest girls' mark still in the books. Stenstom came back to take the 100 free in 51.34, again breaking meet and school marks. Edwards held the previous M-A record of 51.60 from 1989.

Edwards and Brooke's mother, then Lori Heisick, were swimming teammates at Stanford back in the early 1990s. Later, when Edwards was married, Brooke (then age 4) was a flower girl in the wedding. Brooke Stenstrom later realized she could break Edwards' records and accomplished that on Saturday.

She topped off her debut effort in the league finals by anchoring the team of Pont, Zanolli and Van Linge to another record-breaking effort of 3:34.33. That took down the previous M-A record of 3:35.28 from 2006.

The M-A girls had 26 individual swims in the championship finals and accounted for 390 points.

Zanolli added a victory in the 500 free (5:03.60) to go along with her relay legs and a second-place finish in the 100 back of 59.33.

Pont added a second in the 200 free (1:55.40), Van Linge was second in the 200 IM (2:06.60), and Gaby Nighan was second in the 100 fly (1:01.97).

In the boys' meet, Burlingame sped off to a big early lead thanks to a PAL record in the 200 medley relay, having four in the top eight in the 200 free (vs. M-A's one), and four in the top 11 in the 200 IM (vs. M-A's one).

The Bears clawed their way back and eventually drew even after placing three among the top five in the 500 free. Burlingame went up two points after the 200 free relay, was up by 13 after the 100 back and led by 10 following the 100 breast.

That brought the meet to the final 400 free relay, where M-A needed to win the championship and consolation relays to force a tie. The 'B' relay did its job with Michael Hohl (52.27), Vincent Busque (51.27), Jack Beasley (51.80) and Vince Leoni (50.17) all splitting personal records while clocking M-A's second-fastest relay time (3:25.51) of the season.

That left it to the championship heat where Connor Arrington (49.46), Jake Bassin (49.04), Gordon Williams (49.74) and Zach Goland (49.81) were six seconds under their season best while clocking 3:18.05. Burlingame's Kawei Tan, however, split 47.92 on the anchor as the Panthers went 3:16.68 and wrapped up the league title.

The Bears had no victories, but Bassin was second in the 50 free (21.96) and 100 free (49.25) while the 200 free relay team of Arrington, Basin, Williams and Evan McClelland finished second in 1:29.78.

At the WBAL Championships, both SHP teams splashed their way to a fifth straight title — the girls scoring 472 points to out-distance Harker (317) and the boys tallying 585 points to defeat rival Menlo School (450).

Howe factored in on four of SHP's six victories as the Gators piled up the points with their depth. Selby Sturzenegger won the 100 fly in 58.18 and swam on the winning 200 free relay squad that clock 1:42.20.

Menlo freshman Jocelyn Chan won the 200 free in 1:56.19 to help the Knights produce 179 points and finish fifth. Castilleja sophomore Heid Katter captured the 200 IM in 2:04.13 while helping the Gators score 216 points and finish fourth.

In the boys' meet in the SHP pool, the Gators won seven events with Jollymour and Hinrichs winning twice and swimming on two winning relays. The individual titles were their first in the WBAL finals.

SHP won five titles a year ago and returned only one individual champion (Harrison Enright in the 500 free). Still, the Gators prevailed in a big way.

Jollymour took the 50 free in a 21.83 to move among the top five in school history, and added a 48.80 season best in the 100 free. He also anchored the 200 free relay (1:29.79) and led off the 400 free relay that clocked a fast 3:18.55.

Hinrichs anchored the 400 relay and was the third leg in the 200 free squad. He also won the 200 free (1:49.76) and 500 free (4:56.53). Teammate John Howard added a victory in the 100 back in 58.51.

Menlo School managed a lone victory by Johnny Wilson in the 100 fly (55.57).

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