Palo Alto girls splash their way to a third CCS swim crown


Palo Alto should have construction issues with its athletic facilities more often. The girls swim team certainly seems to thrive in chaotic situations.

In 2005, the Vikings built their new pool -- forcing the swimmers to other facilities. Nonetheless, the girls wound up winning the Central Coast Section championship that year.

Fast forward to 2016. Palo Alto began construction of its new athletic facility -- once again forcing the Vikings out of their home.

No matter. The Palo Alto girls went out Saturday and set two section records on the way to winning the third CCS title in program history. Paly scored 231 points with Gunn finishing second with 190. It was the first time in section history that the two Palo Alto schools finished in those positions.

Historic, indeed. The title was even more special given the circumstances during the season.

"We had to do a lot of work at JLS to get it ready," explained Paly coach Danny Dye. "Then had to deal with a broken heater, etc. I'm not going to lie, it was an unbelievably stressful year."

The swimmers dealt with the travel, odd practice hours and adjusted schedules. By the time the girls arrived at the Central Coast Section Championships, they were mentally strong and focused.

"They just kept showing up and swimming," said Dye.

And winning. The Vikings went 6-0 in the SCVAL De Anza Division dual-meet season before winning the league meet title. That success carried into the section finals at the George F. Haines International Swim Center in Santa Clara, where the Vikings expected to win.

"There wasn't any doubt," Dye said of the title.

Dye knew the points would be spread out among a host of talented teams and he was exactly right. Defending champion Mitty shared third with Cupertino with 163 points, Menlo-Atherton had its best meet in years while taking fifth with 147 with Sacred Heart Prep finishing among the top 10 with 117 points for eighth.

"I'm stoked," Dye said while shivering on the windy cool day following a celebratory dunking. "I'm really happy for them."

Palo Alto started the day off right as senior Mimi Lin won her second straight diving title while setting a CCS record of 525.00 points.

The Vikings opened the swimming portion of the meet with a school record of 1:44.06 while taking second in the 200 medley relay.

Junior Grace Zhao swam the second leg on the relay, returning to take second in the 50 free (23.15), leading off the winning 200 free relay with an automatic All-American time of 1:35.55 and finally defending her title in the 100 breast with a CCS record of 1:00.96.

Zhao's win in the 100 breast clinched the team title before the final 400 free relay.

"It's really exciting," Zhao said of the title. "We were expecting it."

And her CCS title?

"I'm happy I got to do it this year," she said.

Dye said the 200 free relay win came at a crucial moment with sophomore Claire Lin providing a highlight with her anchor leg following legs by Zhao, senior Kayleigh Svensson and sophomore Peyton Wang.

"I think the most impressive swim was Claire splitting 23.09 on the 200 free relay," he said. "That was an amazing effort to stay ahead of the other schools and I think solidified the meet."

Paly held off St. Francis, Mitty, Pioneer and Menlo-Atherton as the top five teams finished within less than a second of each other.

Palo Alto received top contributions from sophomores Zoe Lusk and Sofia Sigrist.

Menlo-Atherton sophomore Izzi Henig, meanwhile, was the lone local double-winner as she took the 50 free in 22.79 and 100 free in 49.09, both school records. She also anchored the Bears' 200 free relay to a school record of 1:36.49 (fourth place) and anchored the winning 400 free relay squad of Haley Arrington, Kate Denend and Sophie Murff to victory in 3:28.28, another school mark and automatic All-American time.

"The 100 (free) was exactly what I wanted it to be," Henig said. "The 50 leaves some room for states. I can go faster."

The Gunn girls, meanwhile, had their best finish since winning the CCS title in 2012. The Titans' 400 free relay team pretty much summed up the future for Gunn as Ashley Stahmer, Sarah Snyder, Clara Schulz and Grace Tramack finished third in 3:30.72. All four are freshmen.

Throw in freshman Milan Hilde-Jones, sophomore Zoe Banks and sophomore diver Marisa Agarwal (fourth) and the Titans look set for more exciting finishes.

Speaking of finishes, Castilleja junior Natalie Tuck was third in the 200 IM (2:03.11) and third in the 500 free (4:58.75), M-A junior diver Mia Paulsen was third (482.65) and SHP junior Kathryn Bower was second in the 500 free (4:58.09).

Up next will be the CIF State Championships on May 20-21 in Clovis.

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