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KYUSUNG GONG, STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Santa Margarita's Katie McLaughlin churns her way to a career-best 1.59.84 in the 200-yard IM, but still lost to JSerra's Sonia Wang, who clocked 1:59.68.

Santa Margarita girls win fast, close showdown

STAFF WRITER

RANCHO SANTA MARGARITA - There were six reigning CIF-SS individual or relay titlists speeding through the pool.

There was a defending Division 1 team champion and last season’s runner-up. There were races settled by narrow touches and one of the fastest 200-yard individual medley events in Orange County history.

Yes, Thursday’s girls swimming meet between JSerra and host Santa Margarita felt like a preview of the upcoming Division 1 championship.

“Oh, yeah,” Santa Margarita co-coach Ron Blanc said.

Santa Margarita’s top-ranked girls won, 92-78, to improve to 4-0 in the Trinity League and build momentum for next week’s league finals at JSerra. The Eagles’ boys won, 128-38.

Santa Margarita’s defending Division 1 champion girls raced without standout freshman Samantha Shelton (ill), but picked up a new Division 1 automatic qualifying time from Camryn Barry (100-yard free, 52.43 seconds) and an encouraging win from Sydney Franzen in the 200 free (1:52.57). Franzen has been slowed by a back injury.

The final score went the way coaches from each side projected, but the girls 200 IM provided the CIF-like drama. JSerra’s Sonia Wang outdueled Santa Margarita’s Katie McLaughlin in a record-setting showdown.

Wang, last season’s Division 2 champion for Upland, held off a late charge to touch first in 1:59.68. McLaughlin, best known for the freestyle and butterfly, finished in a lifetime-best 1:59.84 as the two seniors became the first county girls to break two minutes in the 200 IM in the same race.

“I know that she (McLaughlin) is such an amazing and talented swimmer so I just went out there and raced,” Wang said. “She’s a freestyler, so I knew she was going to gain on me so I just tried to stay ahead of her. She almost caught me.

“I think we were both pretty happy with that race.”

McLaughlin led by just over half-a-second after the opening butterfly leg, but Wang blasted her backstroke turn to grab the lead for good. The Harvard-bound Wang led by about a body length after the breaststroke and held off a 27.12 freestyle split by the Cal-bound McLaughlin, who was almost a second faster in the final two laps.

“I didn’t want to let my team down and I know they were counting on me to come out with a win, but it was definitely a good race,” McLaughlin said. “And Sonia did awesome.”

Wang and McLaughlin joined Crean Lutheran senior Ella Eastin (county-record 1:55.15) and former Olympians Kristen Caverly (1:58.86, 2001) and Janet Evans (1:59.96, 1989) as the only county girls to break two minutes.

The duo isn't likely to clash in the 200 IM at CIF. Wang is leaning toward racing the IM, JSerra coach Kevin Clements said, while it would be surprising if McLaughlin opted for the race.

McLaughlin returned in the 100 freestyle to defeat former teammate Kaitlyn Albertoli with a high school-best 49.89, becoming the seventh girl in county history to break 50 seconds.

The Stanford-bound Albertoli touched in a season-best 51.26.

McLaughlin and Albertoli were close at the midpoint but McLaughlin nearly even-split her second 50 with a 25.09 to take the lead. The national teamer's opening split was 24.80.

"I definitley took it out a little slow," McLaughlin said. "I had a lot left in the second 50."

The medley relay was the closest race and again provided a CIF-feel. Albertoli split a 23.03 anchor to give the Lions the win at 1:46.30, two one-hundredths of a second ahead of the Eagles.

Franzen's victory in the 200 free also was close as she rallied in the final 50 past JSerra's Karli Thuen. In the 500 free, Thuen rallied to win in season-best 4:59.83.

The Lions also captured the 400 free relay in a season-best 3:29.97 -- Wang anchored in 50.26 -- but the Eagles' depth was too much in the meet. Allison Plamondon led a swept the butterfly (59.40) in a key event for the Eagles.

"That's pretty respectable," Clements said of the score. "But it's not a win. ... But I think we did really well."

Wang also won the backstroke in 54.81.

“They’re going to be pretty tough (at CIF),” Blanc said of JSerra. “We have a lot left in the tank.”

Contact the writer: dalbano@ocregister.com


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