Kennedy's Baca stays focused, wins 100 fly


RIVERSIDE - Rodrigo Baca felt the sting of a cold night before he stepped onto his starting block for the 100-yard butterfly final at the CIF-SS Division 3 swimming finals Thursday.

“My feet were freezing,” the Kennedy junior said.

Baca wrapped his feet in a towel to stay warm, but his greatest ally on a rainy and chilly night of CIF-SS swimming was his mental strength.

Baca and Saddleback Valley Christian’s Casey Cunningham were two of the swimmers who successfully blocked out the cold during their races and both emerged as first-team champions.

Baca captured the butterfly in a lifetime-best 50.45 seconds while Cunningham used a late surge to touch first in the 500 free in 5:02.15 at Riverside City College.

Baca also clocked a lifetime-best 53.64 to place fourth in the backstroke and raced on Kennedy’s runner-up 400 free relay. He was a standout on a night when other swimmers added time in the cold. Pool-side temperatures were in the low 50s.

“I knew I had to go under 51 (seconds in the butterfly) and focus mostly on the race,” Baca said. “It’s mental.”

Kennedy’s 400 free relay of Akili Allen, Nicholas Soukchareon and anchor Zachary Minott dropped about 11/2 seconds from its seed time to finish in 3:14.94, about half-a-second behind team champion Rio Mesa of Oxnard. Kennedy finished fifth in the team race with 173.5 points.

“You just have to push through,” Minott said. “We did pretty well.”

Cypress’ boys placed 10th.

Cunningham became the first swimmer from Saddleback Valley Christian to capture a CIF title.

“She’s very even-keeled,” Warriors coach Bert Bergen said of the junior. “Weather didn’t affect her.”

Saddleback Valley Christian finished a school-best 11th in a division won by Pasadena Poly.

No county swimmers achieved the automatic qualifying time for state. Baca came close in the butterfly, missing the standard by about two-tenths of a second. The division posted 11 state meet-qualifying times overall.

Valencia sophomore Jacob Christensen also dropped time in the breaststroke, touching second in 59.01.

Pacifica senior Aaron Bauer was steady with a pair of third-place finishes in the 50 (21.65) and 100 (47.96) freestyles.

“This is finals. It’s all mental,” Pacifica trainer Rick Avila said. “It’s who is ready to race … regardless of the conditions.”

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