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May 13, 2005

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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Friday, May 13, 2005

Palo Alto Palo Alto (May 13, 2005)finally gets a home meet

by Keith Peters

It has taken all season, but the Palo Alto High swimming team finally has a home meet. And, it couldn't have come at a better time.

The Vikings, who have been training at Stanford University this season while a new pool is under construction at Paly, will feel right at home this weekend when the Central Coast Section Swimming & Diving Championships are held at Stanford's Avery Aquatic Center.

"We've joked that CCS is our home meet," said Paly senior Monika Friedman.

Added fellow senior Alec Goldfield: "It will be real nice to have CCS here. People will feel a lot more comfortable, especially the younger swimmers who are doing this for the first time."

It has been a season of adjustment for the Paly swimmers, one they've made successfully. Both teams went 6-0 in the SCVAL De Anza Division dual-meet season and went on to claim the overall league titles.

"It was a true character builder," said Paly's first-year coach Danny Dye. "The good part, awesome facility (at Stanford). The bad, how late it (practices) went and no home meets. But, I thought the kids did a great job of getting through it."

The next task to get through is Saturday's CCS finals. The girls finished second to Mitty last season (362-188) while the Paly boys were 10th.

Bellarmine Prep is heavily favored to win its 20th straight boys' title and the 22nd in 23 years. Second place, however, is up for grabs. In the girls' race, Mitty is no longer as dominant as it has been and Palo Alto should be in the title hunt.

"We've been moving up every year," Friedman said. "The only other place to go is first."

No matter what happens Saturday, the Paly swimmers have successfully navigated a season unlike any other in school history. Palo Alto's first dual meet was in 1926. Thus, 2005 was the first season in 80 years that the Vikings had no home meets.

There were few options when Paly went shopping for a new facility. All the local swim clubs were booked, leaving only JLS Middle School. That was until Stanford was approached and came to the rescue.

"We understood the difficulty of finding a place to train," said Jody Smith, manager of the Avery Aquatic Center. "We think it's important to be a part of the community. Palo Alto, at that point, really didn't have a place to swim. We were happy to accommodate them."

Smith, a former Stanford swimmer, checked with her compliance officer and received the OK for Paly to train on campus. The Vikings had to pay the going rental rate and could only train between 6 and 8 p.m. during the week.

"That definitely was a drawback," Friedman said of the training time. "You like to get your practice done in the afternoon. But, I could drive so it wasn't that bad. The underclassmen had more trouble getting to Stanford."

Goldfield, for one, had mixed feelings on the move.

"Transitioning over here was difficult at first, because of the time," Goldfield said. "The late practice time gave people an excuse to skip out on practice sometimes. People didn't like getting home late.

"And, as bad as Paly's pool was, there was something to be said about it. It had a homey feel to it. You kind of got used to it. It was old and it wasn't nice, but it was our pool."

The biggest thing Friedman and Goldfield missed were the home meets. Traveling usually meant no fans. And having no pool meant no Senior Day.

The positives of training at Stanford, however, likely outweighed the negatives.

"Awesome facility," Dye said.

"This is an amazing complex," Goldfield said. "There's a lot more room."

"Usually at Paly I'd get stuck in the lane against the wall," Friedman said. "There was more room at Stanford. I think we swam faster in practice this year."

Dye hopes that translates into even faster times this weekend. All of Paly girls' relays, for example, are faster going into CCS this season than in 2004. Key relay members include juniors Donna Kremer, Becky Wenzlau and Phoebe Champion, plus freshman Liv Jensen and Friedman.

The focus this weekend will be on the relays, where all the points are doubled. In the race for the girls' title, competition here will be fierce. In the 200 medley relay, Menlo goes in No. 1 at 1:51.09, while Palo Alto is No. 4 (1:52.91) and Menlo-Atherton is No. 6 (1:53.81). Defending champ Mitty is only No. 7.

In the 200 free relay, Paly ranks No. 4 (1:40.37) and M-A is No. 5 (1:40.77). In the 400 free relay, M-A's tandem of juniors Kelly Eaton, Heidi Kucera, Danielle Hildebrandt and sophomore Kaitlyn Sitts ranks No. 1 at 3:37.11.

The key factor in the girls' meet is that the points will be spread around. Mitty doesn't have the depth - the Monarchs were only third in the West Catholic Athletic League finals last weekend - nor the individual talent of previous years. The opens it up for Palo Alto, Menlo-Atherton, Menlo, Valley Christian, Burlingame and WCAL champ St. Ignatius.

Individually, Menlo senior Maryann Hiller is ranked No. 1 in the 100 breast (1:05.19). She'll be chased by Kucera (No. 2 in 1:06.48). Friedman ranks No. 2 in the 500 free (5:05.44) and has a shot at a top-three finish in the 100 fly. M-A's Eaton ranks No. 2 in the 100 back (57.99) with Menlo's Angie McPhaul and Gunn's Tara Levens also among the top eight.

Gunn freshman Casey Barnes-Waychus is among the leaders in the 500 free (5:11.95) while Sacred Heart Prep's Tiffany Yim looks solid in the 200 IM.

In the boys' meet, no one will touch Bellarmine. Second place, however, is up for grabs. Paly junior Edward Morrison ranks No. 2 in the 200 free (1:44.47) and No. 4 in the 100 free (48.02). He'll anchor the 200 free and 400 free relays that rank among the CCS's best.

Gunn, which finished fourth in 2004, has three strong relays that should contend, along with Matt Prior in the 100 back. Sacred Heart Prep has solid 200 medley and 400 free relays in addition to individual standouts in sophomore Kameron Flores-Maxfield and freshman Alex Navarro. Flores-Maxfield leads the field in the 100 breast (59.98) and should score big in the 200 IM. Navarro ranks No. 3 in both the 200 free (1:45.02) and 500 free (4:42.32).

Menlo, which finished second to Bellarmine last season, will be counting on piling up points in the consolation heats. Junior Travis Read (100 fly, 100 back) and sophomore Mike Merlone (100 breast) are coming off victories in the PAL finals and are the Knights' best bets for finalist points. .

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