Both are seniors and among the best in the nation with All-American times. Both are club teammates on Palo Alto Stanford Aquatics and swam at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials. Both are defending section champs in two events. Howe owns one CCS mark while Liang is taking aim at his first. Both are coming off a week where they led their respective teams to league meet titles. And, both are headed to Stanford this fall to continue their swim careers.
During their four years representing their teams, the Palo Alto boys have won four straight SCVAL De Anza Division league meet titles while the Sacred Heart Prep captured four straight West Bay Athletic League championships.
Clearly, both have been key members of their respective teams. Liang holds three individual school records and is a member of three school record-setting relays. Howe holds all eight individual school records and is a member of all three relay teams that hold school marks.
"The best way to say it, he is just a nice young man," said Paly coach Danny Dye. "His parents really raised him with the right moral values. He is polite, works hard, is a good friend, and he is humble about his abilities. He is smart, obviously — going to Stanford — talented and yet his friends can see him clearly as a peer.
"(He is) someone who likes to laugh, joke, have a good time. He talent never got into his head. He is just a very nice young man who happens to be really, really fast!!! And, he is dedicated to continuing to find ways to work hard and swim fast. He is very similar to (former Paly All-American) Jasmine (Tosky) in the fact that they are just good people who have a gift. But, they have learned to be a part of a team and share that gift, rather than thinking it is only about them."
Kevin Morris, who coaches Howe, has similar thoughts on his senior standout.
"Obviously it will be impossible to replace Ally next year, but, more than that, I'll miss her personally a ton," Morris said. "I had the privilege of teaching her this year in AP Statistics, and it so amazing to see how the incredible work ethic she shows in the pool translated to the classroom. It's a cliche to say that accomplished swimmers like Ally sacrifice so much with hour after hour of morning practice, but Ally takes that same attitude to everything she does, including her math homework. She's also one of the kindest, sweetest people I've ever met, and she has embraced that role on our team, complimenting everyone on their best times and helping out the younger swimmers with their starts and turns.
"As she's winding up her CCS career, she's more relaxed and just enjoying her team, and I can't wait to see what she does at CCS this weekend; I think it is going to be something special. She's sort of been the public face of our program since she's arrived, and I couldn't think of a nicer representative and role model."
Both Liang and Howe could take down a record or two this weekend as they close out their respective careers.
Howe owns the CCS mark in the 100 back with a 52.32 from last year. That just missed the national private school record. She'll go after her own mark as well as defend her 200 IM title.
Liang's best record shot is in the 100 fly, where SHP grad Tom Kremer's 47.12 from 2012 is clearly within reach. Liang won the CCS title last season in 47.19 and could be the first section swimmer to break 47 seconds.
Liang's personal best is a meet record of 46.88, which came at the 2014 Southern Zone/Speedo Champions Series in College Station, Texas in late February while he was helping PASA win the team title. The national public school record is 45.89. Coincidently, Tosky owns the girls' national public school record (51.92), set in the CCS prelims in 2011.
"Our team has a goal in mind," said Liang, referring to the Vikings taking aim at ending Bellarmine's streak of 29 straight section titles. "I have my own individual goals . . . I'm confident for what can happen. This is my last dance. Hopefully, I can make it a good one."
Liang is coming off a performance where he had a hand in three meet records and one school mark while helping his team defend its title at the SCVAL De Anza Division Championships at Gunn High last Friday.
Liang started the league finals by winning the 50 free in 20.33, breaking the meet record of 20.50 set by Joe Bottom in 1973. It was the oldest meet mark left on the books. Liang also erased his school record and earned automatic All-American status while recording one of the fastest times in CCS history.
"I was relatively pleased with that," Liang said.
Just a short while later, Liang splashed to victory in the 100 fly in 47.74, lowering his own meet record of 47.88 when he knocked the legendary Mark Spitz out of the record books last season. That, too, was an automatic All-American time.
Liang returned in the 200 free relay, where he anchored the Vikings to a meet record of 1:25.91, the No. 2 time in school history that erased the 1:26.21 time Paly set last year.
Finally, Liang anchored the 400 free relay to victory in 3:07.50, fastest in the CCS this season. He clocked 45.21 on his leg as the team of senior William Lee, junior Winston Wang and freshman Alex Liang earned All-American consideration.
That wrapped up a 504-point effort for Paly, which won its fourth straight league meet title. Gunn was second with 400.
Palo Alto also won the opening 200 medley relay with a meet record of 1:35.48. Andrew Cho, Scott Powell, Alex Liang and Winston Wang made up the squad. Andrew Liang will compete on that team at CCS.
Lee added a victory in the 200 IM (1:52.84, No. 2 seed for CCS) and set a meet record of 50.22 in the 100 back (also No. 2 seed for CCS), in addition to swimming on the 200 free and 400 free relays. Cho swam on two record-setting relays and took second in the 100 back (52.46).
Alex Liang prepared to follow in his older brother's footsteps by taking second in the 200 free (1:42.00, No. 3 for CCS) and 500 free (4:32.96, No. 3 CCS), making him the fastest freshman in school history in those events.
Gunn was led by sophomore Daichi Matsuda, who set a school record of 4:32.60 (No. 2 seed for CCS) while winning the 500 free. Matsuda set another school mark while taking second in the 100 fly in 49.56, an automatic All-American time and the No. 2 CCS time behind Liang.
The Titans also got solid efforts from Joao Ama in the 50 free (21.12) and 100 free (47.76).
In the girls' meet, Monta Vista swam away with the title with 414 points and looks to be a solid contender for the CCS title. Palo Alto was a surprising second with 398.50 while defending champion Gunn was third with 394 as only 20 points separated the top three teams.
The individual standout was Gunn junior Jenna Campbell, who won the 200 free in 1:47.37 and broke her own school record in the 500 free with a 4:49.73 clocking. Both were automatic All-American times. She ranks No. 1 in CCS in both events.
"I was happy with both, especially the 500," Campbell said. "I wasn't expecting to go that fast. This just builds confidence, knowing that I can go faster."
Campbell also swam a leg on the winning 200 medley relay team that clocked 1:48.73 and led off the second-place 400 free relay (3:29.74). Senior Gabrielle Bethke won the 100 free in 51.42 and swam on two runner-up relay teams.
Palo Alto freshman Grace Zhao also stood out. She won the 50 free in a season-best 23.56 — defeating Bethke's best of 23.84 — and took the 100 breast in 1:03.98.
"And she can go faster at CCS," said Dye.
While Howe is the defending CCS champ in the 200 IM and 100 back and will seek to defend those titles this week, Morris decided to change things for the West Bay Athletic League championships. He entered her in the 500 free and 100 breast.
"She will be the prohibitive favorite in almost every event, and, since SHP is the prohibitive favorite to win the meet, we're taking this opportunity to have her try some unusual events one last time," Morris explained before the meet. "Also, those two events are probably our weakest as a team, so Ally is always happy to fill in whatever the team needs. We have other swimmers who are also strong in Ally's best events."
Despite having Howe in "off" event, Morris wound up looking like a genius as everything worked out as planned. The SHP girls scored 504 points to successfully defend their league title in their own pool and Howe won both of her individual events. And how.
Howe set league and school records in both the 500 free and 100 breast, clocking 4:44.53 and 1:04.05, respectively.
The 500 time not only surpassed the automatic All-American time of 4:52.31, but it's the second-fastest in CCS history behind Tosky's 4:43.96 for Palo Alto at the 2009 CCS meet.
"Ally Howe's 500 free was impressive," explained Morris. "She earned the 50 free, 100 free, and 200 free CCS cuts in the first two, four, and eight laps, respectively. Her 50 time was 0.08 away from the time that won the 50 (24.80), and she would have won the 100 and 200 individual events. Her time would have won CCS last year by over four seconds."
Howe also swam the leadoff leg on the 200 medley relay team that clocked 1:47.02 to set league and school records. Senior Selby Sturzenegger, sophomore Kayla Holman and freshman Kathryn Bower finished off the relay.
In the 200 free relay, Howe led off again and the Gators won in 1:36.52 for another league and school record with the same relay members as the medley squad.
Sturzenegger added a victory in the 200 free (1:55.11), Bower won the 50 free (24.80) and 100 free (54.37) with Holman winning the 100 fly (59.77).
Castilleja finished second with 277 points with Heidi Katter winning the 100 back (55.39) and anchoring the 400 free relay to victory in 3:47.89.
In the boys' meet, Sacred Heart Prep also defended its title. The Gators piled up 571 points to hold off Menlo School, which had 424.5.
Chris Hinrichs led the Gators by winning the 200 free (1:46.72) and 500 free (4:50.88). He also swam on the winning 200 free relay (1:30.08) and 400 free relay (3:22.57).
Nelson Perla-Ward won the 100 free for SHP in 49.93 and Will Conner took the 100 back in 57.10. Conner swam on the 200 medley and 400 free relays with Perla-Ward adding legs on both free relay squads.
The Burlingame and Menlo-Atherton swim programs finished one-two during the PAL Bay Division boys' and girls' dual-meet season, with the Panthers handing the Bears losses. That set up yet another showdown in the league championships on Saturday at Burlingame High.
Once again, it was the Burlingame girls and boys surfacing with league titles. The Bears, however, didn't go down without a fight as the M-A girls forced the meet to the final relay and the M-A boys lost by only 26 points.
The M-A girls nearly defended their championship meet title, but came up just short as Burlingame scored 526.5 points to M-A's 522. The meet came came to the final 400 free relay, where Leah Goldman's 50.8 anchor carried the Panthers to victory in 3:34.30 while the Bears clocked 3:36.65.
Prior to that, M-A's Maddie Pont had clocked 1:07.52 to finish second behind Julie Williams of Burlingame (1:06.91) in the 100 breast, M-A's Kindle Van Linge (59.19) had taken second to Goldman's 56.19 in the 100 back and the Bears (1:41.92) had finished second to the Panthers' meet-record 1:38.64 in the 200 free relay.
Pont, Van Linge and Nicole Zanolli did bring home individual victories for M-A. Pont won the 200 free in 1:54.33 with fellow senior Zanolli second in 1:55.31. Van Linge, yet another senior, won the 100 fly in 56.61 and Zanolli won the 500 free in 5:05.80.
The M-A girls got the meet off to a good start by beating Burlingame in the 200 medley relay with a 1:49.75 time. Sophomore Alexa Finn joined Zanolli, Pont and Van Linge on the winning squad.
Burlingame, however, bounced back with a 1-2-3 finish in the 200 IM and added a sixth to outscored M-A in the championship finale, 66-14. The Bears did go 1-2 in the 100 fly with sophomore Maddie Worden (1:00.81) taking second to Van Linge but, for the most part, Burlingame led the Bears to the finish line.
In the boys' meet, Burlingame scored 448 points to M-A's 422 to successfully defend its league meet title.
Junior Zach Goland led the Bears by winning the 200 free in 1:46.60 and taking second in the 100 fly in 53.05. He also led off the second-place 200 free relay (1:31.22) that trailed only Burlingame's meet record of 1:29.12. Goland also led off the 400 free relay team that clocked 3:18.92 for third.
M-A sophomore Vincent Busque was second in the 500 free (4:49.41) and third in the 200 free (1:47.54).