The last time the Bellarmine Prep swim team did not win a Central Coast Section title was in 1984. The Bells weren't even in the top two, ending a brief two-year streak of championships. Apparently, that one-year hiatus from the top spot was a fluke.
For the next 31 years, all the top teams in the section have tried, and failed, to defeat Bellarmine. Only two teams have come within 36 points of the Bells, the Palo Alto boys being the closest in 2014 when Bellarmine held on for a 12-point victory.
"Some day," said Gunn coach Mark Hernandez, "some team is going to break that streak. We think this year we have a chance to be that team."
And that historic streak-breaking day could be Saturday at the 2016 CCS Championships at the George F. Haines International Swim Center in Santa Clara. The meet begins at 9 a.m. with girls' diving, followed by swimming at 2:30 p.m., with history perhaps being made following the 400-yard free relay finals around 6 p.m.
This may be a one-shot deal and, appropriately enough, Gunn may be pulling the trigger on the sport's longest such streak.
"I think Gunn is the favorite," said Paly coach Danny Dye, who knows better than to put his squad into that role. "Gunn has the benefit of depth, we have the benefit of higher-level swimmers and relays and diving. My boys have a chance, but have to swim perfect. I have confidence, but we will see."
For comparison sake, Bellarmine returns 86.5 of its 292 points from a year ago. Gunn has 203 of its 214 points returning and Paly has 147.5 of its 210 points back. It's easy to see why the Titans carry the favorite's role.
Even Gunn senior Daichi Matsuda believes a title is possible.
"That has been our goal since last year," he said. "Just knowing that we have the depth. We just need to do as well as we did at leagues, put people in finals and swim well at finals. Right now it's more Paly; Bellarmine's team is kind of young. It's just Gunn versus Paly at this point."
Hernandez, however, isn't making room in Gunn's trophy case just yet.
"Bellarmine is formidable enough when you look at their depth, talent and excellent coaching," Hernandez said. "But, they are also nearly impossible to scout accurately, in part because of their willingness to sacrifice performance at dual meets and their conference meet in pursuit of one goal another CCS championship. What makes them especially tough to beat, though, is the pride with which they compete, (and) the degree to which each swimmer honors the legacy of those teams that have won before them and preserved the streak. Those are tough obstacles.
"What we have going for us, though, is that we don't have to beat every team they've ever had. We just have to focus on beating this year's team. We also have the most unified, devoted crew we've ever had. And, this team has spent the past two years looking forward to this weekend."
The window of opportunity is there for Gunn and Hernandez knows it.
"If we swim to the best of our abilities, and make our own luck, we have a real shot to be not necessarily the best team in the history of the section, but arguably the most important the one who took down the greatest dynasty in any sport in CCS," said Hernandez. "It's an exciting time."
If the Gunn boys come up short, Palo Alto has an outside shot of being the first school to sweep the boys' and girls' titles since Leland pulled it off in 1984. The Paly girls won titles in 1995 and 2005 while the boys are still looking for their first.
"If our girls do what they are capable of doing, they win," said Dye. "The competition is Gunn, Cupertino, Mitty, St. Francis, M-A and Mountain View. The girls are so evenly spread out with talent, among like eight schools, that it actually benefits us. For the boys, kind of the same thing."
Title aspirations could be determined Friday, which begins with the boys' diving competition at 9 a.m. Paly senior Reed Merritt is primed to move up from last year's second-place finish and earn his first section crown, giving the Vikings an early lead before swimming begins. Prelims will get under way at 2:30 p.m., determining the qualifiers for the big championship points.
Heading into the weekend, the Palo Alto boys have the No. 1 qualifiers in the 200 free (Alex Liang's 1:38.61) and diving (Merritt). Bellarmine has one (200 free relay) while Gunn has none. The Titans, however, have 10 top-nine times while Paly has seven and Bellarmine six. A key event for Gunn could be the 100 breast, where it has four swimmers among the top 14 while Paly and Bellarmine have one each.
Elsewhere, Menlo School junior Scott Little is the No. 1 qualifier in the 100 back at 48.95.
For the girls, Palo Alto has the top qualifiers in the 200 medley relay, 200 free relay, 100 breast (Grace Zhao's 1:01.96) and diving, where senior Mimi Lin is favored to defend her section title.
Zhao will face her stiffest competition in the 50 free, where Menlo-Atherton sophomore Izzy Henig ranks No. 1 at 23.62 with Zhao second at 23.63. Henig also tops the 100 free at 49.38.
CCS GIRLS' SWIM RECORDS
Event Time Name Team Year
200 medley relay 1:43.25 Sacred Heart Prep 2014
200 free 1:43.26 Jasmine Tosky Palo Alto 2012
200 IM 1:57.75 Ally Howe SH Prep 2014
50 free 22.24 Maddy Schaefer St. Francis 2010
Diving 515.60 Alexa Cacao Milpitas 2013
100 fly 51.92p Jasmine Tosky Palo Alto 2011
100 free 48.61 Maddy Schaefer St. Francis 2010
Jasmine Tosky Palo Alto 2012
500 free 4:43.96p Jasmine Tosky Palo Alto 2009
200 free relay 1:34.16 St. Francis 2010
100 back 51.54 Ally Howe SH Prep 2014
100 breast 1:01.50 Sarah Liang Palo Alto 2009
400 free relay 3:23.06 Gunn 2012
CCS BOYS' SWIM RECORDS
Event Time Name Team Year
200 medley relay 1:31.28 Palo Alto 2014
200 free 1:35.86 Sam Shimomura Bellarmine 2012
200 IM 1:44.90 Curtis Ogren St. Francis 2014
50 free 19.89 Shayne Fleming V. Christian 2009
Diving 662.15 Zhipeng Zeng King's Academy 2011
100 fly 47.09 Andrew Liang Palo Alto 2014
100 free 43.71 Shayne Fleming V. Christian 2009
500 free 4:18.26 Michael Nunan Valley Christian 2012
200 free relay 1:23.57 Bellarmine 2012
100 back 47.91 Tom Kremer SH Prep 2012
100 breast 53.81 Curtis Ogren St. Francis 2014
400 free relay 3:00.68 Saratoga 2009
CCS SWIMMING SCHEDULE
At George F. Haines International Swim Center, Santa Clara
(All times are for finals, consolation events begin 3 minutes earlier)
2:33 p.m. -- Girls 200 medley relay
2:39 p.m. -- Boys 200 medley relay
2:47 p.m. -- Girls 200 freestyle
2:53 p.m. -- Boys 200 freestyle
2:59 p.m. -- Girls 200 Individual Medley
3:05 p.m. -- Boys 200 Individual Medley
3:10 p.m. -- Girls 50 freestyle
3:14 p.m. -- Boys 50 freestyle
Break for Awards
3:46 p.m. -- Girls 100 butterfly
3:52 p.m. -- Boys 100 butterfly
3:58 p.m. -- Girls 100 freestyle
4:04 p.m. -- Boys 100 freestyle
4:14 p.m. -- Girls 500 freestyle
4:28 p.m. -- Boys 500 freestyle
4:43 p.m. -- Girls 200 free relay
4:49 p.m. -- Boys 200 free relay
Break for Awards
5:12 p.m. -- Girls 100 backstroke
5:18 p.m. -- Boys 100 backstroke
5:24 p.m. -- Girls 100 breaststroke
5:30 p.m. -- Boys 100 breaststroke
Break for Awards
5:45 p.m. -- Girls 400 free relay
5:55 p.m. -- Boys 400 free relay