Gunn boys and Paly girls successfully defend swim titles


After 30 varsity races that included three meet records in the first four events, two swim teams emerged as champions as expected at the SCVAL De Anza Division Championships on Friday at Gunn High.

To absolutely no one's surprise, especially the coaches, the Gunn boys and Palo Alto girls splashed their way to titles in the league meet, and, by doing so, captured the overall league championships following undefeated dual-meet seasons.

Gunn won its second straight league meet by an overwhelming margin, scoring 515 points to Palo Alto's second-place 371. It was only the second time in Gunn's history for back-to-back titles in the boys' league finals, the first accomplished in 2004-05.

The Paly girls, meanwhile, successfully defended by scoring 425 points to hold off Monta Vista (345) and Gunn (331).

Gunn's title this season was a special one because the '04 and '05 league meet crowns didn't follow undefeated dual-meet seasons. Paly, in fact, was unbeaten in '05 before the league meet. Gunn, however, simply had too much depth and top-end talent for the rest of the field on Friday.

"We knew after Wednesday (the trials) that we were on pace to score more than 400 points without relays," said Gunn coach Mark Hernandez, whose team won a pair of relays nonetheless. "So, it would take swimming Armageddon for us not to win. Having said that, we knew as early as last year that we would have a good shot at repeating -- because we knew that most of our core was returning, and we knew that these young men would take advantage of working with some elite club swimming, diving, and water polo coaches. We knew these young men like to win, and knew they were committed to putting in the time and work to make that happen."

As an example of Gunn's depth, the Titans won only three individual events and five overall, including the 200 free and 400 free relays. Senior Daichi Matsuda accounted for two wins as he took the 200 IM in a school record of 1:51.40 and followed that with a 4:36.11 triumph in the 500 free. Max Pokutta added a victory in the 100 breast, clocking a school record of 57.00.

Gunn won the 200 free relay in 1:28.49 with the team of Michael Lincoln, Trent Tosky, David Shau and Christian Znidarsic and took the 400 free relay with a season best as Shau, Matsuda, Tosky and Lincoln clocked 3:10.20.

Over a stretch of four events -- 50 free, 100 fly, 100 free and 500 free -- Gunn outscored Paly in the championship heat by 208-58.

"Kyle Accornero deserves a ton of credit for this win," Hernandez said of his assistant. "He has been working on this lineup since at least December, and has planned all meet entries with this meet -- and CCS --in mind. He's redesigned our workout regimens, putting a renewed emphasis on speed and details, and the results speak for themselves -- and augur well for CCS. Doug Schwandt also deserves a lot of credit; he's given our diving program legitimacy, consistency, and sustainability.

"But, again, the real stars are the young men. They know how to perform well in big meets, and love having fun when they do. They also appreciate that this is a special time for this program. I mean, we're not the only team in our league to benefit from the great club programs we have in this area. This league is the best public school league in the section, and it's not close; six teams finished in the top 11 last year at CCS. So, to be back-to-back, wire-to-wire champions of the league makes us very proud."

Elsewhere in the meet, Monta Vista set a meet record in the opening 200 medley relay by clocking 1:33.54 with Paly also under the old mark with a runner-up 1:33.77. Paly junior Alex Liang set a meet record of 1:38.61 in the 200 free and Paly senior Reed Merritt broke his own school mark in diving with 594.90 points during that competition on Tuesday.

In the girls' meet, Paly wasn't as dominant as the Gunn boys but still won six events. Junior Grace Zhao was a double winner as she took the 50 free in a season best of 23.63 and set a meet record in the 100 breast with a 1:01.96, breaking the mark she set last year. Zhao also swam a leg on the 200 medley relay that opened the finals with a meet record (by three seconds) of 1:44.33 and led off the first-place 200 free relay that clocked 1:36.39.

Another key Paly swimmer was sophomore Zoe Lusk, who led off the medley relay, won the 200 free in 1:52.26, took second in the 100 fly and led off the second-place 400 free relay.

Palo Alto had only three seniors, swimmers Kayleigh Svensson and Katie Francis plus diver Mimi Lin (who won her fourth straight title on Tuesday), score points in championship finals. Everyone else returns. Gunn, meanwhile, is even younger.

Freshman Milan Hilde-Jones won the 100 free in 52.55 -- from Lane 1 -- and fellow freshman Grace Tramack won the 500 free (5:03.60) after taking second in the 200 IM (2:09.06). Ashley Stahmer, yet another freshman, was second in the 200 free and helped win the 400 free relay (3:32.31) with a third freshman, Sarah Snyder.

Next up will be the Central Coast Section prelims on May 13 followed by the finals on May 14 at the George F. Haines International Swim Center in Santa Clara.

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