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Foothill League girls swimming preview: Indians are still loaded

Hart boasts a strong group, but the battle for second place figures to be intriguing

Posted: March 19, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: March 19, 2012 1:55 a.m.

Hart's Nicole Antoniuk is one of the top returning swimmers in the Foothill League.

 

In all likelihood the 2012 Foothill League girls swim season will produce quite the race.

It’s just unlikely to be for first place.

Hart, which has won 29 of the last 30 league titles, is poised to win again this season — but should the Indians slip up, they’ll find there are two talented squads right behind them.

Those two schools, Saugus and Valencia, are poised for a dramatic race for the second spot. Valencia is looking to retool after taking a substantial hit due to graduation, and Saugus is looking to join a talented group of returners with a strong group of newcomers, led by Olympic trials qualifier Abbey Weitzeil.

Last season’s third-place finisher, Canyon, can’t be overlooked either. The Cowboys return a senior-laden team that shouldn’t be written off.

On paper the top spot might look like a lock.

But to paraphrase an old saying, that’s why they swim the races.

Hart

The Indians are the perennial power in the Foothill League, and there’s no reason to doubt they will be again in 2012.

The losses of current University of Indianapolis freshman swimmers Sam Asencio and Hayley Good will be felt, but Hart still has plenty of talent.

Last season’s All-Santa Clarita Valley Swimmer of the Year Nicole Antoniuk leads a talented group of returning swimmers for head coach Steve Neale’s squad.

Antoniuk was the league’s only girl to win multiple individual events at the Foothill League swim finals last season, winning in the 200-yard individual medley and breaking a 25-yeard-old league record in the 500-yard freestyle.

Fellow returner Nicolette Barreiro will likely be the Indians’ top sprinter, with Megan Schultz adding versatility to the squad with her ability to race the 100 free, 200 free and individual medley.

Bryana Waage returns as a talented backstroker who can race multiple events, and Emma Osowski will try to become a CIF-Southern Section finalist in the 500 for the second year in a row.

Rounding out what will be a talented group of returners for the Indians is Asia Antoniuk, a junior who will be one of Hart’s top butterfliers and potentially one of the best in the league.

And like usual, the Indians are loaded with incoming talent.

Freshman Tamara Santoyo should be a force in sprint races, while fellow freshman Mik Ranslem brings a versatile skill set to the squad and should fair well in the individual medley.

“They’ll be impact swimmers,” Neale said. “They both will. They already have CIF qualifying times and hopefully they’ll be CIF finalists and will certainly help our relays.”

And the scary part is, that’s just the top of what is a loaded Hart team from top to bottom.

The Indians will look to swimmers such as Stephanie Poleman, Christine Lusk and Gabbi Madia to score points and help lead the Indians to their 30th overall team championship.

Valencia

The Vikings have spent the last two seasons trying to challenge Hart for the league title, but they’ve had to instead settle for second place.

The bad news is challenging the Indians again might prove more difficult than previous years due to the losses of Micaela Velasquez, Naomi Asplund and Allison Harada.

The worse news?

While Valencia has been able to focus on chasing Hart in recent years, this season the attention might be focused on battling back a strong Saugus squad.

The Vikings, though, aren’t without a strong crop of swimmers in their own right.

Returner Sophie Fiscella provides Valencia with an all-around swimmer who is strong in the 50 free, 100 free and 100 backstroke and was a CIF-Southern Section Masters champion in the 50 free last season. Catie Anderson will give Valencia strong performances in the 200 IM and 100 backstroke, and Rebekah Haw will provide talent in the 200 IM, 200 free and 500 free.

The problem for Valencia, though, is it doesn’t have the same crop of new talent that Saugus does.

“In a normal year, (the loss of Velasquez, Asplund and Harada) wouldn’t hurt that much because we have a pretty good program,” said Valencia head coach Mike Bechtholdt. “But this year, with Abbey Weitzeil being thrown into the mix (at Saugus), and she really changes a lot of things.”

The Vikings will turn to newcomers Maliah Grim and Katie Blasing to help fill the void, but the question remains, will it be enough to avoid a Saugus team that has its sights set squarely on the Vikings?

Saugus

The Centurions might be the team with the best chance of challenging Hart at the top — but their focus entering the season is on a second-place finish.

After finishing in third place last season, Saugus returns a talented crop of swimmers, and has a strong group of new swimmers to round out the team.

“We really were fortunate enough to carry on the majority of our core group of swimmers,” said Saugus head coach Vicky Donnelly. “We really were more of a younger team last year, and this year we have more seniors.”

Katy Sonksen, Kristin Threw, Caitlin Baker, Tara Olson, Hayley Grosklags and Kaylyn Sawa all return to the Centurions this season and will be key to a potential run to a first or second place finish.

But the real game change comes in the form of a newcomer: Weitzeil.

The freshman will be help Saugus tremendously in relay events, and she excels at sprints such as the 50 free and 100 free. Weitzeil qualified for the Olympic trials in the 100-meter free.

Coupled with fellow incoming freshman Paige Montoya, who Donnelly thinks will prove to be a valuable asset for Saugus, the Centurions are primed for a successful 2012 league season — but will it be enough to repeat their 2004 title run?

That remains to be seen.

Canyon

The Cowboys are in a similar position to Saugus in that Canyon didn’t lose many key swimmers, with Tess Neumann representing the lone major loss for the squad.

And while Canyon doesn’t have nearly the incoming class that Saugus has, the Cowboys won’t be wanting for experience.

Shayla Austin is poised to be Canyon’s strongest swimmer this season as she races in the 100 butterfly, 50 free and 200 IM.

Karina Rodgers returns as a strong breaststroker and was Canyon’s strongest swimmer in the 200 IM last season, finishing fourth at the league finals.

Megan Warr, Kayla Possell and twins Amber and Autumn Wyatt also return to give Canyon a small but experienced core group of swimmers.

“(Our strength this season) is experience,” said Canyon head coach Steve Himes. “We’re so old, I have a lot of 12th-graders. I feel like maybe a younger team might make a lot of errors and probably DQ chances, where I feel we’re experienced. They’ll think smart. We’re doing a lot of mental thinking through our races and … we’re planning our races better. They get it. They understand strategy a little better and you have to do that with a small team.”

West Ranch


Continuing the theme, the Wildcats didn’t lose many impact swimmers off their girls swim team, either.

But they did gain an impact newcomer.

Transfer student Courtney Chrazas moved from the Inland Empire and could be a threat in the 200 IM and 100 breaststroke.

Add her to freshman Anne Yoo, a talented sprinter in the 50 and 100 free, and West Ranch has drastically improved without losing much.

Top returner Taylor Poliseno, who finished first in the 50 free and second in the 100 free at league finals last season, will lead a Wildcats team that will look to improve on last year’s fifth-place finish.

“Every year we have the ability, we’re always missing one or two key swimmers,” said West Ranch head coach Aaron Worby. “Maybe we don’t have a relay or something like that. This year we have that key swimmer, but we’re lacking that depth. We’ve pulled out surprises before. We’ve pulled off wins over Saugus and Canyon to try to pull off that third-place ranking, so it’s definitely out in the open, and it could happen.”

Golden Valley

Golden Valley will very much take a strength in numbers approach this season, as the Grizzlies continue to make strides in the always challenging Foothill League.

A school that has struggled to increase participation finally has what can be considered a full squad, one that can allow a school to build a swim program, rather than struggle to fill a varsity team.

“This year is really different for us because in the past our team has been extremely undersized and not even close to full,” said Golden Valley head coach Jenn Marsden.” This year, we have full varsity and JV teams for all four levels, so that’s about 75 swimmers all together, which is the largest team in school history.”

At the varsity level, Cassandra Kutra-Undi will lead the Grizzlies while swimming the 200 IM and 100 fly. Stella Lee will race in the 200 IM, as will Suji Yeon.

It’s clear the Grizzlies are improving, and getting closer to Foothill League success.

Without the number of standouts its rivals have this year, Golden Valley will have a tough time climbing up the standings, but it’s clear the Grizzlies are improving.

”We don’t have a lot of superstars,” Marsden said. “We’re just working with depth as much as we can.”

And for the first time, the Grizzlies truly have it.

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