Esperanza girls lead the way at Div. 2 prelims
RIVERSIDE - Esperanza’s swimmers and coaches were in a cautious mood after the CIF-SS Division 2 prelims Friday.
They made no over-confident statements about the girls team competition. But the Aztecs’ performance in the pool did the real talking at Riverside City College.
Esperanza’s girls qualified each of their relays in the top-three and placed at least one swimmer into every individual championship heat for Saturday’s 10 a.m. finals.
Based on a scoring of prelims, Esperanza projects to rack up 295.5 points, which could send the Aztecs to their first Southern Section title.
The Aztecs, naturally, didn’t want to talk points Friday. Esperanza coach Matt Slevcove said he didn’t score the meet based on seedings.
“Didn’t want to get ahead of ourselves,” he said. “I think we did that at league a little too early.”
Esperanza shared the Century League crown with a rapidly improving Foothill squad. The Knights also raced well again Friday but Esperanza’s balanced lineup impressed.
“I think it will be (a) league (showdown) all over again,” Esperanza junior Michaela Merlihan said. “We’ll see. … I want the (championship) ring.”
Merlihan paced the Aztecs by qualifying first in the 200-yard freestyle in 1 minute, 52.84 seconds. She also touched a close third in the 500 free with a 4:55.90, about half a second off leader Nikki Chang of Sonora.
Merlihan teamed with her sister, Meghan, Maddy Huttner and Sarae Dydo to blaze to the No. 1 seed in the 400 free relay with a 3:33.97, about 3 ½ seconds off Riverside Poly’s 1980 Division 3 record.
Huttner also grabbed the No. 3 seed in the 200 individual medley (2:06.90).
Foothill projects to score 222 points off prelims. The Knights qualified fourth in the medley relay and second in the two freestyle relays.
“I’m just real proud of these girls,” third-year Foothill coach Steve Pickell said. “Most of these girls’ first sport is water polo. Their second sport is swimming, so for them to do what they’ve done all year, and how much they’ve improved all year, is a real sign of how tough these girls are.”
Troy’s Paul Li paced the county boys. The senior secured the No. 1 seed in the 200 free by blazing to a county-leading 1:40.05. He also qualified first in the 500 free in 4:31.22.
Li could face a showdown in the 500 with Crescenta Valley’s Young Tae Seo, who qualified second at 4:31.34. Crescenta Valley and Damien of La Verne are the boys team favorites.
Villa Park’s BJ Churnside took the No. 2 spot in the 50 free with a 21.14 while Troy’s Katelyn Martin qualified first in the girls 50 at 23.73.
Brea Olinda’s Nolan Rogers set a school-record in the 200 individual medley by clocking a 1:54.05 for the No. 4 seed.