The road-warrior Palo Alto girls swimming and diving team repeated as Central Coast Section champions Saturday at the Santa Clara International Swim Center.
The Vikings scored 209 points. St. Francis was second with 197, followed by Mitty (179) and Gunn (178). It was the fourth CCS girls swim title in school history and first back-to-back.
The last two years Paly did it despite not having a home pool to train in, as the school pool is unavailable due to the renovations taking place on campus. Practices were conducted at Jane Lathrop Stanford Middle School and at Gunn.
“These girls had to go through so much and they were so stoic, so understanding,’’ Palo Alto coach Danny Dye said. “I am so happy for them. It is something they deserve due to their positive demeanor. They bought in and stayed focused the whole time.’’
Paly was tied for first place with St. Francis heading into the final individual event, the 100 breaststroke.
Good news. That event is the dominion of Grace Zhao, the top swimmer on the team. Zhao had broken her own CCS record in the preliminaries with a time of 1:00.94. She didn’t swim as fast in the final, but still won easily in 1:01.37 and all but clinched the meet for her team.
“Going into the meet we had the feeling there was some work to be done,’’ said Zhao, who will swim for Stanford next year and major in math or science. “But about halfway through the meet we caught our stride.’’
Zhao was credited with a first-place finish in the 200 individual medley in a time of 1:59.43 after Harker’s Vivian Wang was disqualified for an illegal turn. Paly’s Zoe Lusk was second (2:01.10).
Zhao also swam legs on Palo Alto’s winning 200 medley and 200 freestyle relay teams. Lusk led off the medley relay in the backstroke, giving the Vikings a lead they never relinquished. Dye wanted to save top sprinter Claire Lin for the two other relays, so he had Peyton Wang swim the anchor freestyle leg and Wang never faltered.
“She really steps up in the big meets,’’ Dye said.
Lusk also placed third in the 100 back in 54.90.
Gunn fell short in its bid to repeat as boys champion. A year ago the Titans snapped Bellarmine’s unprecedented 31-year reign as CCS boys swimming champions.
The Bells bounced back this time around, taking first with 264 points. St. Francis was second with 230, followed by Gunn with 174.
“We’re disappointed for sure,’’ Gunn coach Mark Hernandez said. “But the positive is if we’re disappointed to finish third, that’s not too bad. I feel we wore the crown well.’’
Gunn got a first-place finish from Max Pokutta in the 100 breast in 55.29 and a pair of seconds from Michael Lincoln in the 200 free and 500 free. Pokutta also took second in the 200 IM.
Pokutta and Lincoln will continue as teammates next year at Brown University in Rhode Island.
Alex Liang was a double winner, helping the Palo Alto boys to a seventh-place finish. Liang won the 200 IM (1:47.65) and the 500 free (4:25.54). Liang was a decisive winner in both of his events despite not registering a PR in either.
“I wasn’t really tapered,’’ said Liang as he concluded competing in his final CCS meet. He will join his older brother Andrew, another former Paly standout, at Stanford. “This is a bittersweet moment, kind of surreal. I will definitely come back to visit.’’
Menlo-Atherton’s Izzy Henig repeated as champion in the girls 50 free in 22.88. She defeated St. Francis’ Brooke Schaffer, who had the fastest seed time and fastest prelim time. Palo Alto’s Lin was third (23.78), Gunn’s Clara Schulz fourth (23.83) and Sacred Heart Prep’s Sloane Reinstein fifth (23.96).
“I’m really happy to win the 50 free again,’’ Henig said. “The energy here is just so great. All the energy and all the fun really helps you go fast.’’
Henig was nosed out by Mitty’s Cathy Teng in the 100 free, 49.43 to 49.45. Gunn’s Sarah Snyder (51.10) and Ashley Stahmer (51.13) were third and fourth with SHP’s Reinstein fifth (52.07).
Snyder also placed fourth in the 200 free.
Castilleja's Natalie Tuck finished fourth in the 200 IM and 500 free.
Stanford-bound Mia Paulsen won the girls 1-meter diving event with a score of 514.80 for Menlo-Atherton.
Most of the top divers also compete for the Stanford Diving Club, including Paulsen, second-place Clarissa Greenlow of St, Francis, who is headed to Utah, third-place Nike Agunbiade of Crystal Springs, fourth-place Demitra Williams of Monta Vista and fifth-place Audrey Chin of Nueva.
Palo Alto's Jack Callaghan placed sixth in the boys diving.
The state meet will be held next Friday and Saturday at Clovis West.
Girls diving opens the meet on Friday at 8:30 a.m. with preliminaries beginning at 2:30 p.m.
Boys diving opens Saturday at 8:30 a.m. with finals at 2:30 p.m.