Gunn girls: from no pool to CCS swim champions
The path that the Gunn High girls' swim team took to its first Central Coast Section championship last weekend started with no pool. That was the 2008-09 school year, when the Titans were replacing their ancient swimming hole.
The pool was outdated, too shallow at one end and certainly not up to the standards of any respectable program.
Gunn's freshman class that year included current seniors Julia Ama, Casey Lincoln, Maggie McKenna and Christine Prior. They, and their teammates, had no home meets that year and trained at Stanford.
Three years later, they were rewarded for that inconvenience with a championship.
"I can't say enough about this group of seniors," said Gunn coach Mark Hernandez. "Everybody came through and I'm so proud of them. These girls really showed the way and have set an example for future Titans to follow."
Gunn scored 266 points to defeat defending champion Mitty (242) and third-place Palo Alto (173) at the George F. Haines International Swim Center in Santa Clara on Saturday.
"We knew coming in that our stars were ready to shine," said Hernandez. "We knew our 200 free and 400 free relays were untouchable."
The Titans won both those relays and got two individual wins from senior Rachael Acker, who joined the program her sophomore year, to achieve a goal that was conceived last year after Gunn finished fourth for the second straight season.
"At CCS last year, we thought we could win it this year," Hernandez said. "We were bringing back just about everybody and we felt really confident."
That was due, in part, to the Gunn seniors.
"This senior class is the best class Gunn has ever had," Hernandez said. "We scored a lot of points in a lot of places.
Acker and fellow seniors Ama, Prior, Lincoln and McKenna scored 186 of their team's 266 points and did it impressively — capped by the victory in the 400 free relay to wrap up the meet.
Gunn held only a 12-point lead over Mitty prior to the final race but Acker, Ama, Lincoln and sophomore Jenna Campbell splashed to a CCS record of 3:23.06 to win. The time just missed the national public school record of 3:22.85 by Hershey (Pa.) last year.
"That was our secret goal," said Hernandez. "After tying the CCS record in the prelims (3:23.53), we figured it was well worth considering."
A national record would have been just icing on the cake for the Titans, who came in as the favorites and lived up to the expectations.
Acker won the 50 free in 22.78 after breaking her school record in the prelims with a 22.64. She also won the 100 in 48.98, another school mark, and led off the winning 200 free relay team that clocked a school-record 1:34.87. Sophomore Gabrielle Bethke subbed for Campbell on the 200 free squad.
Lincoln added a second place in the 500 free (4:53.20) after setting a school record of 4:52.24 in the prelims. Campbell finished third in the 200 free in 1:51.16 after setting a school mark of 1:50.93 in the prelims. McKenna added more Gunn points in the 100 breast with a school record of 1:06.17 for fifth while Ama teamed with Acker to score 68 points in just the 50 and 100 freestyles.
All told, the Titans clocked six automatic All-American times.
"This is real exciting," Hernandez said of his first CCS title.
Gunn's team victory overshadowed two fine individual efforts by seniors Tom Kremer of Sacred Heart Prep and Jasmine Tosky of Palo Alto.
The Stanford-bound Kremer set two CCS records during prelims and finals while helping the Gators finish third with 172.5 points and equal their best finish ever.
The star of the day won the 100 fly in the section's second-fastest time ever (47.86) after lowering the CCS record to 47.12 in the prelims, erasing the 29-year-old mark set by Pablo Morales in 1983.
Kremer clocked a sizzling 20.03 anchor to help the Gators finish second in the 200 free relay in a school-record 1:23.63, set another CCS record while winning the 100 back in 47.91 and clocked a sizzling 43.99 anchor leg as the Gators finished second in the 400 free relay in a school record of 3:05.15.
Kremer went after the 100 fly record on Friday because "it was a time I thought I could go," he explained. "The timing was right. I didn't want to risk it (the record) in the finals."
The 100 back record was more of a surprise.
"That was better than I thought," he said. "I didn't even think about it because it (the record) was so far out there."
The previous 100 back mark of 47.97 was set during the 2009 meet that saw countless CCS records fall to the now-banned "fast suits." Surprisingly, seven section marks fell Saturday without the aid of technology with one tied. Three others fell in the prelims.
One of those marks fell early on Saturday, to Paly's Tosky in the 200 free. She clocked 1:43.26 to erase her own section mark of 1:44.11 from 2010. The national public school record is 1:42.81.
"It was a good swim for me," said Tosky, who used the meet to see where her training was for the upcoming Olympic Trials. "It's my best time, so I was happy with my 200 free."
Tosky finished her prep career by winning her seventh and eighth individual titles in four years while remaining unbeaten. She defended her 100 fly title in 52.36, just off her national record of 51.92 from last year. Tosky also tied the CCS record in the 100 free by leading off the Vikings' 400 free relay in 48.61.
Sacred Heart Prep sophomore Ally Howe helped the Gators finish seventh with 131 points as she defended her 100 back title in 53.12, just missing her CCS record of 53.11 from Friday's prelims. She also broke her own school record in the 200 IM (1:58.61) while taking second to Alicia Grima of Woodside (1:58.52), her club teammate on Palo Alto Stanford Aquatics.
The Palo Alto boys had one of their finest CCS meets ever despite settling for second behind defending champion Bellarmine as the Vikings scored 218 points. The Bells won their 28th straight section title with 389.5 points.
The Vikings finished second in the opening 200 medley relay in a school-record 1:34.26; senior Byron Sanborn finished second in the 200 IM in 1:49.44 after setting a school record of 1:47.60 in the prelims, and finished second in the 100 breast in 55.74 after establishing a CCS mark of 55.29 in the prelims; sophomore Andrew Liang was second in the 50 free in a school record of 20.92 and second in the 100 fly in a school record of 48.15; sophomore William Lee set a school mark of 50.45 while taking third in the 100 back and the team of Liang, Alex Francis, Lee and Sanborn set another school mark of 3:06.74 while taking third in the 400 free relay.
Paly junior Cole Plambeck was third in diving on Friday.
The Menlo-Atherton boys broke the school record in the 200 free relay while clocking 1:29.06 for seventh. Gunn's Tommy Tai broke the school record in the 200 IM with a 1:56.35 in the prelims.