fitting end to
SHP's Howe breaks two national marks;
Paly boys just miss ending legendary streak
by Keith Peters
The 2014 high school swimming and diving season is over, but hardly forgotten. It turned out to be one for the history books in many ways.
In fact, there was history to be made at the Central Coast Section Championships last weekend at the George F. Haines International Swim Center in Santa Clara. Sacred Heart Prep senior Ally Howe made it, but the Palo Alto boys did not.
Howe followed up her National Independent High School Record in the 100-yard backstroke during Friday's trials by breaking it again at Saturday's finals.
The Palo Alto boys, meanwhile, took a good shot at ending Bellarmine's historic winning streak at 29 years. The Bells, however, made it to 30 by a mere 12 points in the closest finish in the boys' division in, well, 30 years.
Bellarmine scored 322 points to Paly's 310. Sacred Heart Prep was ninth and Gunn 10. In the girls' division, Monta Vista won the team crown with 226 points with Gunn third with 182, Menlo-Atherton a surprising fourth with 163, Sacred Heart Prep fifth with 162 (despite having only four swimmers) and Palo Alto eighth with 127.
Three national records were set during the two days of swimming, all for private schools.
Stanford-bound Curtis Ogren of St. Francis lowered his national mark in the 200 IM to 1:44.90 on Saturday and Howe clocked 51.84 to break 2012 Olympic gold medalist Missy Franklin's record of 52.30 on Friday. Howe then came back Saturday to lower her own record to 51.54.
That makes Howe the second-fastest prep in history, second only to Olivia Smoglia's National Public School record of 51.43 from 2012.
"I'm super excited," said Howe, who just missed breaking Franklin's record at last year's CCS meet. "That was one of the goals I wanted to accomplish, break 52 (seconds). It's a goal I've had for so long. I just went for it and it turned out quite well."
Howe wound up having one of the best meets ever by a local swimmer.
"It still hasn't sunk in," Howe said Monday.
After leading off the Gators' 200 medley relay team that set a CCS record of 1:44.10 in the prelims, Howe and teammates Selby Sturzenegger, Kayla Holman and Kathryn Bower did it again Saturday by lowering their section mark to 1:43.25.
Howe returned a short while later and broke the CCS record in the 200 IM with a 1:57.75. That erased the previous mark of 1:57.94 by Paly's Jasmine Tosky in 2009.
"I've been trying to break Jasmine's record for the past few years," Howe explained. "Trying to get Jasmine's record was a good goal."
Howe then lowered her national mark in the 100 back, which actually came as quite a surprise after trying to get it Friday.
"I was definitely surprised," she said. "Definitely exciting and unexpected. It was a good way to end my last individual event."
The Stanford-bound Howe still wasn't done. She clocked a sizzling 48.47 on the anchor leg to overhaul favored Monta Vista and bring the Gators home first in a school record of 3:25.03.
Every event Howe swam in Saturday produced an automatic All-American time.
"I'm never surprised by her," said SHP coach Kevin Morris.
While Howe was the individual star of the girls' competition, the Palo Alto boys did their best to take down Bellarmine's 29-year dominance. After outscoring the Bells 56-8 in the 100 back behind William Lee (second in 50.00 after setting a school record of 49.49 in the prelims), Winston Wang (fifth in 51.71), Ryan Drover (sixth in 51.91) and Andrew Cho (seventh in 52.08).
Heading into the final 400 free relay, Paly trailed by just six points — the margin between finishing first and second. Had Paly and Bellarmine gone one-two, the meet would have finished in a tie. Had St. Francis snuck in between the teams, the Vikings would have won. It was that close.
Bellarmine wound up winning in 3:02.36 with Paly taking second with a smashing school record of 3:04.12 as senior Andrew Liang anchored in 43.47.
"They put everything they had into the race," said Paly coach Danny Dye. "I can't deny their effort. I can't deny their passion. I'm as proud of them whether it's a blue (first place) trophy or red (second place) trophy."
The second-place finish left Paly relay members Andrew Cho and Alex Liang with their head in their hands, a scene unlike any other perhaps in school history. Both will be back next season, but they won't have Andrew Liang.
The Stanford-bound Liang bowed out with a great performance. He set a CCS record of 47.09 in the 100 fly on Friday and came back to win the title in 47.44. He set a school record of 20.12 in the 50 free in the prelims and won the finals in 20.41. Liang also swam the fly leg on the 200 medley relay that set a CCS record of 1:31.28 after breaking the school record with a 1:32.20 in the prelims. He was joined by Lee, Scott Powell and Wang.
Paly's 200 medley relay missed the public school national record by less than two seconds.
Thus, Andrew Liang had a hand in five school records and two CCS marks over the two days.
"I had some goals in mind, expectations for the finals," he said. It's been pretty good. Winning helps in the team race. Inside, I'm not quite satisfied. I think I put a little too much pressure on myself. I was trying to break 20 (seconds in the 50 free)."
While Liang came away disappointed in himself, he had to be happy with how his team stood up to the challenge of ending Bellarmine's streak. The last time the Vikings came close was in 2001 when the margin was 33 points.
Interesting enough, Palo Alto scored 276 points with 14 swims in the finals while Bellarmine tallied 268 with 13 swims — including relays. The difference came in the consolation finals where the Bells had nine swims and scored 53 points while the Vikings tallied 34 points on eight swims.
Elsewhere in the meet, which saw 10 CCS records fall:
Palo Alto freshman Grace Zhao opened by singing the National Anthem, the proceeded to win the girls' 50 free (23.26) and 100 breast (1:02.58). Both were automatic All-American times. She also led off Paly's 200 free relay with a 23.04 leg, a personal best.
"My main goal was 22 (seconds) for the 50," Zhao said. "But, I'm happy with my two wins and (time) drop in the 100 breast."
Gunn junior Jenna Campbell defended her title in the 200 free with a 1:47.10, but missed doing the same in the 500 free with a second place of 4:50.54. Both were automatic All-American times.
Palo Alto diver Mimi Lin was second with 459.10 points while fellow diver Reed Merrit took second (474.85) in the boys' 1-meter event.
The Menlo-Atherton girls got a school record from senior Maddie Pont in the 200 free as she clocked a 1:52.50 while the Gunn boys set a school mark in the 200 medley relay as the team of Jeffrey Lei, Luke Chui, Daichi Matsuda and Joao Ama clocked 1:36.87 while winning the consolation final.