Editor’s note: This story was edited on May 4, 2017, to reflect a vote by league coaches on the interpretation of the Foothill League’s constitution in regards to scoring the league finals.
Hart High swim coach Steve Neale said last week he had confidence entering the meet-ending 400-yard freestyle relay with his boys team leading Valencia by two points.
Still, the narrow advantage opened the door for the unexpected: something like a false start or a cramp.
“Nothing is for sure,” Neale said.
The same could be said for this week’s Foothill League prelims and finals.
MORE: Hart boys swimming’s Osowski breaks arm, not spirit
Since at least 2009, the winner of the Hart-Valencia dual meet has all but once gone on to win at league finals. But, coaches and swimmers don’t expect the same level of predictability this year.
Why? Because of the level of talent spread across the league.
“We’ve never had this dynamic of little pockets of brilliance on the other teams,” Neale said. “You have brilliant swimmers from Saugus and West Ranch and Canyon.”
Simply put, standout individuals from schools other than Hart and Valencia make it hard to predict which team will actually win the Foothill League title. And, frankly, the Saugus boys remain a threat to steal the league title from the Vikings and Indians altogether.
Here’s a look at storylines entering prelims, which start at 1:30 p.m. today at Santa Clarita Aquatic Center:
Where will the title go?
Valencia and Hart remain the top contenders for both boys and girls.
The Valencia girls and Hart boys enter this week with 5-0 league records, while the Valencia boys and Hart girls are each 4-1.
Foothill League swim coaches voted on May 4 to interpret the section on swimming championships in Foothill Sport By-Laws Article VII as “the school who wins the (league) meet receives one point. The other 5 schools receive no points,” according to an email from Foothill League secretary Dody Garcia.
The point is added to the school’s dual meet record. If two teams have the same record after the league meet, the tiebreaker for the league title is which team finished higher at league finals.
The coaches’ other option was that each competing school would “earn a point for each school it defeated (EX. 1st place receives 5 wins no losses, Second Place receives 4 wins 1 loss….etc.)”
The section on championships in Article VII reads, “The All-League Meet shall count the same value as the results of the dual meet season in determining the League championship.”
How does the scoring work in each event?
At league finals, each varsity team can enter four swimmers into each individual event and one foursome into each relay.
Scoring for relays starts at 40 points for first place and gradually descends to 26 for sixth place.
For individuals, first place in the championship final earns 20 points and it descends from there to 11 points for eighth place.
In the consolation final, points start at nine and descend to 1.
The key, then, is for teams to advance as many swimmers as possible into the eight-swimmer championship finals.
“Your third and fourth swimmers on the depth chart could change everything,” Neale said.
Looking for a four-peat and beyond
As for perennial dominance, the Hart girls 400-yard freestyle relay stands alone. A Hart foursome has won the event every year since, at least, 2009.
Elsewhere, a Valencia girls team has won the 200 free relay each of the last three years. The same can be said for the Viking girls in the 200 medley relay.
Saugus senior Tanner Olson has won the 100 breaststroke each of the last three years at league finals, breaking the meet record the last two years.
Valencia’s Julia Wolf (50 and 100 freestyles), Saugus’ Olson (50 free and 100 breast) and Hart’s Adam Osowski (200 and 500 free) all have an opportunity to repeat in two individual events at league finals.
West Ranch’s Sophia Morici (100 butterfly) and Marika Van Gent (100 backstroke), Canyon’s Alexa Skorus Neely (200 IM) and Valencia’s Kaila Wong (100 breast) have a chance to defend their respective titles.
Popov back in the pool
Before taking last season off to train for the U.S. Olympic Swim trials, Valencia’s Nikol Popov dominated league finals as a freshman and sophomore.
She broke the league meet record in the 200 individual medley in 2014 and did it again in 2015. She broke the meet record in the 100 breaststroke in 2015.
The three-time individual CIF-Southern Section champion is back swimming for the Vikings as a senior.
Relaying the message
The Saugus boys created buzz in relay events last season. Then they added one of the Southern Section’s best swimmers over the offseason.
Zander Minano, who transferred from Notre Dame of Sherman Oaks after finishing second in the 50 free at the 2016 CIF-SS Division 1 finals, has made an immediate impact.
The foursome of Minano, Olson, Justin Morsch and Tim Lim won the 200 medley and 400 free relays against Hart on April 20, both in automatic-CIF-qualifying times.
Finally, a new champion
Both the girls 500 freestyle and the boys 200 IM will have a new champion this season after years of singular domination.
2016 graduates Alyssa Schultz (500 free, Hart) and Kevin Dai (200 IM, Valencia) were both four-time league champions in their respective event.