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Esperanza girls take Division 2 by storm
RIVERSIDE - When all the races were over, a few members of Esperanza’s girls team needed one last surge of power in their legs Saturday afternoon.
The Aztecs had their first CIF-Southern Section swimming and diving championship plaque to hoist while celebrating in the warm-down pool at Riverside City College.
Like their performance in the competition pool, Esperanza had plenty of strength to complete the task. The Aztecs stormed to their season-long goal of claiming the Division 2 title by scoring 300 points to outdistance Century League rival Foothill, which claimed its first runner-up plaque since 1990 with 237 points.
Foothill capped the meet by edging the Aztecs in the 400-yard freestyle relay. But Esperanza’s versatile lineup and top-end speed from Michaela Merlihan were too much for the Knights.
“We didn’t win the battle (in the 400 free) but we won the war,” Esperanza senior Sarae Dydo said. “We really did well as a team getting someone in the top 10 in every event. It’s really a great accomplishment. I’m so happy to be an Aztec today.”
Esperanza finished third in Division 2 last season behind Glendora and Walnut. The Aztecs, however, returned all of their CIF-point scorers this spring with the intention of claiming Division 2.
“After last year’s finish, they knew this was a possibility,” said Esperanza coach Matt Slevcove, who teamed with longtime assistants Galen Diaz and Jay Mericle. “It feels so good for the kids.”
Merlihan captured the 200 (1 minute, 49.94 seconds) and 500 (4:50.59) freestyles in school records for her first section titles. The junior flashed a bright smile as she looked at her time after the 200.
“I wanted to break 1:50 and did,” she said.
In the 500, Merlihan used a strong back-half to out-duel Sonora’s Nikki Chang, who touched second in 4:51.02. Merlihan’s sister, Meghan, a freshman, won the consolation final in 5:06.33.
Esperanza entered the session as the favorite based on prelims. The Aztecs managed to surpass their projected point total of 292.5. Foothill, which shared the league title with Esperanza, also surpassed its projection.
“We knew (Foothill) was our competition,” said senior Maddy Huttner, who placed third in the 200 IM (2:06.81). “We knew we had to step it up a lot.”
BJ Churnside paced the county boys. The Villa Park senior matched his lifetime-best in the 50 frees by touching first in 20.57 seconds, keeping him tied for eighth in county history. The Stanford-bound water polo player also notched his first individual section title.
“(It feels) pretty good,” he said. “It’s good to switch it up (with different sports). If I just played water polo, I’d just get too burnt out. … I kind of enjoy swimming.”
Churnside was even faster in his anchor leg in the 200 free relay, splitting an eye-popping 20.16 – the fastest in the field - to help the Spartans place third at 1:26.43.
Foothill’s Rachel Thompson split a 51.72 anchor to bring the Knights’ 400 free relay of Emily Konishi, Brenna Thomas and Hanna Kruip to the wall first in 3:31.74.