Records fall, freshmen rise up at Div. 1 prelims


RIVERSIDE - The amount of records set was staggering Thursday at the CIF-SS Division 1 swimming prelims, and another tradition returned to thicken the plot for Orange County.

County freshmen girls again burst onto the main stage ready to challenge all comers, even a senior as fast at Santa Margarita’s Katie McLaughlin.

Corona del Mar’s Eva Merrell and Santa Margarita’s Samantha Shelton didn’t race head-to-head against McLaughlin at Riverside City College, but posted faster qualifying times in the same events in a reminder that the sport’s freshmen will routinely stir the action.

“One (senior) leaves and there’s the other (freshman) coming through the door,” Corona del Mar girls coach Doug Volding said.

Merrell and Shelton pounded on the door Thursday in qualifying for Saturday’s 5 p.m. finals. Merrell qualified first in the 100-yard butterfly in a lifetime-best 51.98 seconds that threatened McLaughlin’s 2014 Division 1 record, and former national high school record, of 51.78.

McLaughlin, who didn’t wear a technical suit or shave for prelims, qualified second at 53.50.

“It was so surprising to me,” Merrell said of her time. “(Finals) is going to be a great race for both of us. Honestly, I don’t think I’ll be upset if she (McLaughlin) beats me because she’s a senior and she deserves it more than anyone else. She’s on the national team.”

Shelton qualified first in the 200 free in 1:48.09, about three-tenths of a second ahead of McLaughlin (1:48.41), whom she also beat at league finals.

McLaughlin digested the results with the calmness of a veteran. She said Saturday would be “fun” and explained her suit strategy.

“It’s mentally good for me to still have something left (to use for finals),” she said. “Honestly, my goal, more than any of my other personal goals, is probably to get the team a win.”

McLaughlin showed her team spirit by leading off the 400 free relay with an Orange County-record 48.69 for the 100 free, slicing almost three-tenths of a second off Lindsey Engel’s 2013 standard. The defending champion Eagles qualified first in the 400 in 3 minutes, 23.97 seconds.

Abbey Weitzeil of Saugus, McLaughlin’s future teammate at Cal, broke her national record in the 50 free (21.83) and then broke her national record in the 100 free twice thanks to the individual race (47.53) and a 400 relay leadoff (47.42).

JSerra’s Sonia Wang smashed the Division 1 record in the 200 individual medley by almost half-a-second by clocking a 1:58.28 to pace a strong final.

University’s defending champion boys set three school records. The 400 free relay of Ken Takahashi, Alejandro Ortiz, Daniel Tran and Andrew Knoell qualified third in a school-record 3:05.84. Will Hofstadter secured the second seed for finals in the 100 free with a lifetime-best and school-record 44.78, also good for sixth in county history. Judd Howard qualified first in the breaststroke in a school-record 55.04, placing him third in county history.

Defending champion Nick Norman of Capistrano Valley and Grant Shoults of Santa Margarita set the stage for their showdown in the 500 free by qualifying first-second at 4:20.57 and 4:21.04. Tran (48.89), San Clemente’s Josh Swart (48.91) and Edison’s Thomas Smith (49.13) did the same in the backstroke.

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