Given a 54-point lead after the diving finals earlier in the week, the challenge was obvious for the Palo Alto girls' swim team heading into the SCVAL De Anza Division Championships on Friday at Lynbrook High in San Jose.
Do not lose the lead. By the end of Friday's meet, the Vikings hadn't. While they did lose swimming portion of the meet to Gunn, it didn't matter as Paly scored 508 points and won its 10th straight league title as Gunn closed with 499 in the closest league competition ever between the rivals.
"Diving was huge for Paly," said Vikings' coach Danny Dye, who actually had his team losing by a point after doping out the competition.
While Gunn outscored Paly in swimming, 491-446, the Vikings never let the Titans overtake them despite Gunn winning two of three relays and going 1-2-3 in the 500 free. Gunn outscored Paly in the final four events, 189-114, and it still wasn't enough.
"Paly was able to pick some important points today," said Dye. "Jayna Wittenbrink had a phenomenal meet. She swam a personal best in the 200 freestyle (1:54.68) to really help out (moving ahead of three Gunn swimmers), and moved up in the 100 butterfly (second) to help, as well. Margaret Wenzlau, in the butterfly, made a great move to help Paly go 1-2-3 and score some important points. Rachelle Holmgren moved up in the 500 freestyle and really helped the team."
Paly's Molly Zebker was another standout as she won the 200 IM in a personal best of 2:07.42. She also took third in the 100 fly after Gunn's Campbell had taken third in the prelims.
The Vikings won the opening three events, went 1-2-3 in the 100 fly and had the huge advantage over Gunn in diving, 62-8. Gunn never held the lead over the final four events as the Vikings' depth made the diving points stand up.
Paly's Jasmine Tosky and her fellow seniors walked away with their fourth straight league-meet title with a stirring effort. She led the 1-2-3 finish in the 100 fly with a meet record of 55.05. Wittenbrink swam a personal best of 56.77 for second and Wenzlau added an important third in a season-best 57.05 after having foot surgery 10 weeks ago.
Tosky won twice, as usual, taking the 200 free (1:48.14) in addition to the fly. She also anchored the opening 200 medley relay team to victory, perhaps setting the tone of the meet for the Vikings.
Gunn senior Rachael Acker did all she could to help the Titans finally get that elusive league-meet title. She won the 50 free in 23.40 after going 23.34 in the prelims, took the 100 free in a season-best 50.70, led off the 200 free relay that won in a meet record of 1:36.40 and led off the winning 400 free relay that clocked a season-best 3:29.65.
Other Gunn standouts included Julia Ama, Christine Prior, Gabrielle Bethke, Casey Lincoln and freshman Jenna Campbell, who won the 500 free in 4:59.26. Maggie McKenna added a victory in the 100 breast for Gunn, her 1:06.85 time making her No. 2 in school history.
"We swam valiantly, and had two great days of swimming," said Gunn coach Mark Hernandez. "Unfortunately, as I feared on Wednesday, we just couldn't climb all the way out of the hole we were in after the diving portion.
"Palo Alto swam very well, and did just enough to hold on to their lead. Still, we're proud to be able to say that our swim team scored 45 more points than theirs; in a meet like this, that's no mean feat. We got back to work this morning, and we're going to do everything we can to make it a memorable CCS on Friday and Saturday."
In the boys' meet, Palo Alto senior Byron Sanborn swam to a pair of meet records and sophomore Andrew Liang also won twice as the Vikings successfully defended their title, winning for the seventh time in eight years. Paly scored 488 points to easily hold off second-place Monta Vista (370.5) while Gunn was fifth with 254.5.
Sanborn took the 200 IM in a meet record of 1:51.80 and broke his own meet record from the prelims in the 100 breast, clocking a season-best 56.77 in the finals, just missing his personal record of 56.47 that ranks him No. 2 in school history.
Gun's Tommy Tai was fifth in the 100 breast, but set a school record with his 1:00.69 clocking.
Sanborn also swam the second leg of the winning 200 medley relay team that also set a meet record of 1:35.69 and anchored the 200 free relay squad to victory in a season-best 1:27.51. Both relays came within a half second of setting school records.
Liang also swam on the winning relays and added a school record of 20.93 while winning the 50 free. He broke the previous record, 21.46, that he set in the prelims. After winning the shortest race, Liang took on the longest and won the 500 free in a personal best of 4:36.98.
Junior Cole Plambeck won the diving competition earlier in the week to get the Vikings started on their title defense.
The Vikings wound up winning the boys' and girls junior varsity title, as well, for a perfect 4-for-4 day.
West Bay Athletic League
The Sacred Heart Prep boys and girls successfully defended their league-meet titles on Friday with impressive efforts in their own pool.
Tom Kremer defended his titles in the 200 IM and 100 back as the SHP boys scored 552 points to easily hold off runner-up Menlo School (375).
Kremer took the 200 IM in a meet record of 1:51.74 and now ranks No. 2 in school history in the event. He also won the 100 back in a meet record of 50.40, an event in which he is the defending CCS champ. Kremer also anchored the winning 400 free relay to a season best of 3:12.42 with a sizzling 45.79 leg.
Harrison Enright took the 500 free with a 5:02.57 clocking. SHP also took the 200 free relay, clocking a season best of 1:29.71.
Ted Lim of Pinewood won the 200 free in 1:47.18 and won the 100 fly in 54.52.
In the girls' meet, Sacred Heart had a tougher time but prevailed over King's Academy, 428-368, as sophomore standout Ally Howe was limited to one individual event, winning the 200 IM.
"She has been pretty sick lately, and finished her 200 IM feeling pretty sick, dizzy, and light-headed," said SHP coach Kevin Morris. "If we had needed her to swim, she probably could have done so, but we made the judgment call that, overall, we want her healthy at CCS, so we did a 'declared false start' in the 100 fly."
By doing that, the Gators will have Howe available for the section finals next Friday and Saturday in Santa Clara. If Morris had scratched her, Howe would have only the IM to swim at CCS. Fortunately for the Gators, Howe's absence didn't hurt their title hopes.
"A bit later," said Morris, "we realized that, mathematically, we basically could win the meet without winning the 400 free relay, we took her out of the 400 free relay and sent her home and to bed."
Before Howe left, she led off the opening 200 medley relay as the Gators won in 1:51.52. A few event later, she took the IM in 2:04.07.
The Gators' depth won out with Erica Myers, Selby Sturzenegger, Erin Sheridan and Pippa Temple all earning top-three finishes. The Gators also grabbed second in the 200 and 400 free relays to hold off King's.
PAL Bay Division
The Menlo-Atherton boys successfully defended their title and the M-A girls finished second once again at Burlingame High on Saturday.
The M-A boys had only two individual victories, both by Max Wilder, but still scored 534 points to outdistance Burlingame (453). The Burlingame girls reversed that finish by tallying 551 points with M-A second with 525.
Wilder led a strong M-A sprint crew by taking the 50 free in 22.32 and winning the 100 free in 48.82 for his first individual league titles. The Bears scored a total of 91 points just in those two events.
It was all about depth for the Bears, who had 23 swims in the championship (top eight) finals while the Panthers had 16. M-A scored 331 points in the finals while Burlingame tallied 239.
The best events for the Bears were the 200 free, 200 IM, 100 free and 500 free as M-A had four finalists in each event and scored 225 points.
The Bears were so deep that only Alex Gow (third in the 200 IM in 2:09.41) and Gordon Williams (third in the 100 fly in 56.67) were the only M-A swimmers, other than Wilder, to finish among the top three in any event.
The Bears did add second places in the 200 free relay (1:31.75) and 400 free relay (3:19.23) with Wilder swimming on both.
In the girls' meet, M-A junior Ilona Hyvarinen won the 50 free in 25.79 and swam the third leg on the 200 free relay that won in 1:41.09 for the Bears' only victories of the day.
The M-A girls, like the boys, used their depth in piling up the points. The Bears had four finalists in the 200 free with sophomore Maddie Pont second in 1:54.42; had four finalists in the 50 free; four in the 100 free with Pont taking second again in 53.70; and four in the 100 back with junior Winona Holmes-Robbins the top finisher in fourth (1:06.25).