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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Wednesday, May 08, 2002

Gunn boys make splash in finals
Depth finally pays off for the Titans as their strength in numbers proves too much in De Anza Division meet

by Keith Peters

The goal was clear for the Gunn High boys' swim team this season: losing to rival Palo Alto was not an option. For the first time in more than a decade, the Titans finally had the experience, talent and depth to end years of frustrating losses to the Vikings - both during the dual-meet and championship seasons.

Those years of swimming four years with nary a varsity victory over Paly ended this season when the Gunn boys went undefeated during the dual-meet campaign. The Titans proved their 6-0 record was no fluke by swimming off with the SCVAL De Anza Division title last Friday at Holy Cross Aquatic Center at St. Francis High.

"Winning league was what it was all about this season," said Gunn coach Mark Hernandez. "Beating Paly, that's what this group wanted to do all year. It's something the guys really wanted, especially the senior class. That's pretty cool for them."

Very cool, indeed. With the numbers in their favor, the Titans scored at least 30 points in every event and totaled 490 1/2 points to Paly's runnerup 426 1/2.

"We knew going in that we needed all 16 guys to contribute," Hernandez said. "And they did."

Each school produced four champions, but Gunn won two relays while Paly won one and the Titans had 34 scoring swims to the Vikings' 26. Depth was the difference.

"Definitely," Hernandez said.

That depth was most evident in two events - diving and the 100-yard backstroke. Gunn outscored Paly in diving, 54-9 and in the backstroke by 33-6.

"Those two were really big for us," Hernandez said. "Last year, we had only one diver. I knew I need four scorers in diving this year. Diving was especially rewarding this season."

Gunn junior Keith Allen won the 1-meter diving on Tuesday, with sophomore teammates Chris Taylor and Andrew Smith finishing ahead of Paly's lone diver, Jesse Brooks. Once the swim finals began three days later, the Vikings were in a 45-point hole.

The Titans immediately extended that lead by winning the 200 medley relay in a CCS-leading time of 1:40.95. Junior Andrei Ayrapetov later won the 100 fly in a season-best 53.67, beating two Paly swimmers, and joined with seniors Ben VanderPlas, Peter Ehrhorn and Yuri Bukhan to win the 200 free relay in 1:28.94 after clocking a CCS-leading 1:28.04 in the prelims.

That set the stage for the 100 back, where Gunn had pulled VanderPlas - arguably the league favorite.

"He could have won the 100 back," Hernandez said of VanderPlas. "But we rolled the dice. We felt Ben was a top 8 swimmer wherever he went. We felt he was one who could move them (Paly) down a spot."

VanderPlas teamed with Ayrapetov to go third and second, respectively, in the 50 free - relegating Paly to fourth and seventh. In the 100 free, VanderPlas joined with Ehrhorn and Alan Neo to help Gunn outscore Paly, 44-29.

"We told our swimmers that the best way to be a good second-day swimmer is to find a way to move up (from the prelims)," Hernandez said.

Paly did have a number of fine individual efforts with junior Ryan Fortune winning the 200 free in a CCS-leading 1:46.28, sophomore Kalani Leifer winning the 200 IM in a CCS-leading 1:59.81 and freshman Jeremy Goldstein winning the 500 free in a personal-record 4:57.42. The Vikings also won the final 400 free relay in a season-best 3:21.80 with Fortune, Brian Yeh, Goldstein and Leifer - all underclassmen.

With that done, Gunn still had one more task - to give Hernandez the ritual dunking into the pool.

"I heard them talking about it," Hernandez said of the plan. "They're not as subtle as they'd like to be."

But, efficient. Ehrhorn picked up Hernandez in a bear hug and the two toppled into the drink.

"I didn't bring a change of clothes," Hernandez explained, "because I didn't want to jinx us. So, I had to scramble around for some dry clothes afterward. But, it was well worth it."

In the girls' meet, St. Francis successfully defended its title with 451 points while Paly scored 437 for second and Gunn 259 for fourth.

Paly junior Julia Lippe-Klein was her team's lone individual champion, winning the 100 breast in a meet-record 1:07.69. She wound up leading the Vikings with 35 points, one better than freshman Monika Freidman. Paly's only other victory came in the 400 free relay where the team of Laurel Champion, Remy Champion, Katie Koepfgen and Freidman clocked 3:42.08, the No. 2 time in the CCS.

The times weren't quite as fast at the Private Schools Athletic League finals at Castilleja last week, but the host Gators clearly dominated in their new pool by winning nine of 11 events.

The Gators swept all three relays and showed their depth with only one swimmer - Alexa Namba - winning two events. Namba won the 500 free in a CCS-qualifying 5:18.17 and took the 100 breast in 1:08.45, another CCS time. Julia Goldstein won the 200 IM (2:23.44), Amanda Gordon won the 200 free (2:13.67), Emily Brown won the 50 free (26.45) and Valerie Kaplan won the 100 fly (1:04.80). Goldstein also swam on all three winning relays while Namba and Kaplan were on two relays.

In league swim finals this week, Sacred Heart Prep will host the Girls Private School League meet on Friday at 4 p.m., Burlingame is the site of Saturday's PAL Bay Division finals (1 p.m.) and Sequoia hosts the PAL Ocean Division finals, also Saturday.

E-mail Keith Peters at


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