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2014 Foothill League Girls Swim Preview

Hart and Valencia girls are very close in title race

Posted: March 24, 2014 10:48 p.m.
Updated: March 24, 2014 10:48 p.m.

Saugus junior Abbey Weitzeil is going for a third straight dominant year in the Foothill League and beyond.

 

On paper, the Foothill League title race will come down to perhaps the valley’s two biggest rivals: Hart versus Valencia.

There’s plenty of talent spread across the league, and Saugus’ Abbey Weitzeil should once again highlight the pack.

Canyon brings in perhaps the league’s top freshman in Alexa Skorus-Neely.

But the depth remains with the defending league champion Indians, and the ready-for-glory Vikings.

Who will win, though, is anyone’s guess, as the rivals appear to be as even as any two teams could possibly be.

And as a result, the performances of swimmers at the other four schools come finals time could have just as much of an impact on the championship as the swimmers at Hart and Valencia.

Hart

Hart cruised to the Foothill League title last season, sweeping during the regular season and winning the championship meet 965-747 over Valencia behind swimmers such as juniors Tamara Santoyo (50-yard free and 100-yard free champion), Mik Ranslem (200-yard individual medley champion) and Ally Schultz (500-yard freestyle champion).

All three return, and the talent doesn’t end there, either. Fellow returners Emma Osowski, Bryana Waage, Gabbi Madia and Erin Niemi are ready to defend the Indians’ title in a year that Valencia is breathing down their necks.

“We’ll be challenged by Valencia,” said Hart head coach Steve Neale. “Valencia has solid girls. We may have a few more stars than they do, but they have some depth in places we don’t. They have a solid lineup. Hopefully we can get our stars to shine and get our depth up there and we can do OK. But they have a potential to put a lot of girls in finals.”

Depth is an issue for Hart because of significant losses in the backstroke and breaststroke — including backstroker Megan Schultz.

“She’s a really key loss, great backstroker,” Neale said. “Somebody’s going to have to step up and try and do a backstroke for us.”

Two girls who could fill the role are volleyball player Sarah Coblentz, a sophomore, and freshman Dani Merlo, who has struggled with a shoulder problem early in the season.

Returner Kelly MacKinnon could also swim in the event, while Breanna Hummitzsch could fill a gap in the 100 breaststroke.

Hart will need them to elevate their performance and match the quality of returning talent the Indians feature. Otherwise, Hart’s run at the top could see an end in 2014.

Valencia

The Vikings thought they could compete with the Indians last season, but at the Foothill League final meet in 2013 Hart steadily pulled away.

This season, things appear closer — and the Vikings are looking to end Hart’s dominance with a league title of their own.

“I feel like both teams can win the title,” said first-year Valencia head coach Chris Stroh. “It can really go either way depending on the swimmers. We both have top-notch talent, but we also have depth on both sides.”

The Vikings also were fortunate enough to lose just one point scorer off their 2013 girls roster — Rebecca Ha.

As a result, the roster of talented returners is stacked, with Sophie Fiscella leading the way.

Add to the mix Catie Anderson, Katie Blasing, Tiffany Farfan, Annalena Assiante, Rebecca Ravitz and Madison McCabe, and the Vikings will trot out a lineup rivaling any in the league.

It doesn’t end there, either.

Valencia features a stellar group of incoming swimmers, as well, with Hayley Chua, Christina Taylor and Nikol Popov expected to feature heavily in varsity meets this season.

And with all the talent the school will put in the pool, it’s no secret why many are picking the Vikings to win the title — a feeling many at the school aren’t used to.

“It is a little bit (odd), but we’re always trying to keep a level head,” Stroh said. “All the kids have heard that, and me as well have heard those same expectations. So we’re trying to take one meet at a time and get the kids in line for where we need them to swim for bigger meets and league meet.”

Saugus

There’s no secret who the headliner is for the Saugus girls swim team: Junior Abbey Weitzeil returns to the pool after two straight years of Foothill League and CIF-Southern Section Division I championship seasons under her belt.

She’ll be joined by talented returning distance swimmers Jenna Powell and Dakota Botton, and sprinter and backstroker Paige Montoya.

The four will make up the core of the Centurions squad this season, and will be counted on to lift a group of new swimmers to varsity success.

“I think No. 1 is it’s experience. I think they bring the fact that they know what they’ve done and what this team is capable of from years past and if anything, they will motivate these girls to want to rise to the challenge,” said Saugus head coach Vicky Donnelly.

The newcomers expected to make a dent for Saugus consist of Cameron Helm, who takes over in the breaststroke after the graduations of Caitlin Baker and Tara Olson last year.

Fellow freshmen Hayley Edgar (butterfly and mid-distance freestyle events) and Amber Montoya (backstroke and mid-distance freestyle) join Helm to make a dynamic trio of new talent.

“I definitely feel confident with what we have going on at the top,” Donnelly said. “It’s those kids that come in third, fourth, fifth places that are really going to have to work to get there.”

West Ranch

The Wildcats are determined to improve on last season’s fourth-place finish, and with a solid group of returning veterans, their chances look good.

Courtney Chrzas returns in the 200 IM and 100 breast, with sophomore Olivia Morici expected to make an impact, as well.

Newcomers Jennifer Wong should see plenty of time in the pool in the 50 and 100 freestyle events, and should swim the 100 fly and feature in the relays also.

The biggest loss for West Ranch was senior Taylor Poliseno, who finished second last season in the 100-yard freestyle event at Foothill League finals.

“I’m confident that at the bare minimum we’ll maintain,” said West Ranch head coach Aaron Worby. “My girls team is looking to be potentially a place or two higher in the league as a result of the returners and newcomers. Every year we’re looking a little thing and this year we have a little more depth on the varsity girls side.”

That depth is bolstered by the return of Yoo Abbot, who missed her sophomore season but will again race this year in the sprint freestyle events and possibly on some relay teams.

Sophomore Melissa Hartley will also return as part of the 200-yard freestyle relay team, which finished second at league finals last season, along with Morici and Chrzas.

The team also features two of the league’s top divers in Carly Sherwood-Souza and Emma Simmonds, and will welcome a new diver in Samantha Traina.

Canyon

Canyon returns plenty of its top talent this season, and is looking to move up the final standings after finishing fifth last year.

Seniors Megan Warr (500 free and 100 fly) and Katelyn Martinez (50 free and 100 free) return to the team looking to flourish under first-year head coach Daniel Neswald.

Sophomore Rachel Alfred will return to the pool to swim in the 50 free and 100 breaststroke.

“Their attitudes in practice, their dedication and especially their times are definitely going to be able to compete in finals this year,” said Neswald on why the trio has already had a great impact on the team in 2014.

Canyon sits at 4-0 during the preseason.

Add to the mix one of the league’s top newcomers in Alexa Skorus-Neely, a freshman from Canyons Aquatics Senior Elite program, and sophomore Sasha Kumar, who will swim the 100 free and 100 back stroke.

Neswald may be new to the team, but he’s already seeing a change in the program’s attitude.

“I’m building a team,” Neswald said. “We have grown. We have 88 swimmers this year and I’m really excited to see what we’re going to produce and how the kids are going to react to the different coaching style I’m bringing. It took work; I had to prove myself to them definitely. I think I still have more work to do, but I think they’re coming along well.”

Golden Valley

The Grizzlies simply don’t have the numbers to compete at the varsity level this season, but they do feature a small team of four swimmers who are already turning in strong swims during the preleague season.

Cassie Kutra-Undi returns as the team’s top swimmer in the 50 and 100 free, with senior Nandi Moore competing in the 50 free and 100 breaststroke.

Senior Jenny Chitgian moves up from JV to compete in the 100 back and 100 free, and senior Alizah Garay will swim in the 100 back and 200 free.

“They’re very small but they’re just going to do the best they can and focus on the individual times, “ said Golden Valley head coach Jenn Marsden. “It’s an opportunity for them to be an example to the new kids. It’s a young team They’ll be a major help in terms of cheering on the brand new kids who have never swam before and be guidance for the new kids.”

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