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The threats of the league

Posted: March 19, 2008 2:03 a.m.
Updated: May 20, 2008 5:02 a.m.

Valencia High freshmen swimmers Michaela Valasquez, left, and Bob Hwang, right, are expected to lead the Vikings in tough Foothill League competition in 2008.

 
Thanks to a climate which features mostly year-around sunshine, Southern California is a hotbed for some of the best swimmers in the country.

That is certainly no exception in the Santa Clarita valley, where some of the best programs in the state reside.

In the Foothill League, the action can be quite intense, especially between the top three clubs, but more often than not, Hart High School has gained the upper hand.

This year, however, an up-and-coming squad from Valencia, led by a pair of highly-touted freshmen, are looking to capture a league crown that has eluded it for over a decade.

GIRLS
Hart

Last season: First in league

While no one discounts the blood, sweat, tears and talent it has taken to put Hart on top of the Foothill League year after year, no one can overlook the fact that in high school swimming, numbers are key, as well. And with a roster approaching 100, the Indians have the numbers.

Success breeds interest in the program and, as they say, the rich get richer ....

After almost a decade on top, the team, led by 25-year coach Steve Neale, has used such numbers (he calls it "depth") to his advantage for quite a few campaigns.

This year, expect that roster to include such top talents as junior Jordan Danny (Neale's "big weapon" and Olympic qualifier in the 200-meter breaststroke and individual medley and freestyle). Aiding Danny in the cause will be seniors Rachel Krager (butterfly, 500-meter freestyle) and Kate Pellymounter (breast, IM), junior Rachel Stoffel (freestyle sprinter), sophomore Maggie Hanson (backstroke, IM) and freshman Samantha Asienco (freestyle, butterfly) and Hayley Good (sprint freestyler).

There will also be something new for Hart this year, a bonafide diver in sophomore Kali Whitehurst, who might be able to  pick up points when the club gets into CIF competition.

"We're trying to build on a tradition of success," Neale said. "Not just with our front line girls, but the supporting cast, as well.

That's where you earn the points in high school swimming, in getting those second, third and fourth places."

Still, despite all of the success and tradition of excellence exemplified by the Indians, Neale realizes it will be a tough go-round this year with a very tough Valencia squad and an up-and-coming Canyon team breathing down its back.

"This should be a very interesting race," he added.

Valencia

Last season: Second in league

According to coach Kathleen Perdisatt, an eight-year veteran of the water wars, the Lady Vikings are poised for a breakout season, thanks in part to the leadership of some tested veterans and the inclusion of a freshman, Michaela Valasquez, of whom great things are expected.

"Michaela is an anomaly," said Perdisatt. "She's never swam competitively before, but she has already logged automatic CIF qualifying times in the 200-meter freestyle, 100-fly and the 100-backstroke."

Of course, Valasquez has a swimming history in her genes. Her father was a competitive swimmer a few years back and he passed that skill onto his daughter.

Another freshman on the team is Naomi Astlund, who excels in the 200-meter individual medley, as well as the freestyle. Joining these youngsters will be seasoned juniors, Kaitlyn Salovich (freestyle) and Megan Machynia (butterfly), as well as senior Jasmine Henderson, who specializes in the back and breaststrokes.

"You never know what's going to happen in the Foothill League," Perdisatt, "so, you just have to go out and swim the best you can. Obviously, Hart will be the team to beat, but I really think we can do some good things this year."

Valencia opens league competition against Saugus High today at the Santa Clarita Aquatic Center.

Canyon

Last season: Third in league

Being praised by the coaches of both Hart and Valencia, the Canyon girl water-treaders have high expectations for 2008, but third-year coach Steve Himes believes his charges are more than up to the task.

"We know we're in for a battle," he said, "but these girls have worked hard and have grown as a team. We may not win league, but this competition will certainly prepare us for CIF."

Aiding in that cause will no doubt be a trio of returning veterans, Milena Lopez (sprint/freestyle), Marissa Rodgers (breaststroke) and utility swimmer Chika Kondo; as well as talented all-around athlete in sophomore K.T. Livingstone.

Some new young women should also add to this mix very well, including junior breaststroke specialist Sarah Pino and freshmen twins, Adria (butterfly) and Allison (distance) Morales.

Golden Valley

Last season: Fifth last year

Golden Valley girls coach Kari Irwin is expecting even better things from this club.

"Since we're a brand new school, we are behind everyone else," she said. "But we've built the program from the ground up and now we're seeing the benefits. Now, we have talented seniors and some great underclassmen that will make a difference."

But it's the children who shall lead the Grizzlies in 2008, beginning with sophomore Michelle Duraj (breaststroke, IM), whom Irvin describes as "a great overall swimmer I can count on for some top qualifying times."

Another pair of 10th graders, Miranda Haramia (backstroke) and Rachel Lorton (distance), are also expected to do good things.

"We're starting really strong and have great team spirit, so far," the coach added. "Plus, we have two new assistant coaches who can offer more help and more attention to the girls. We're going to be stronger and much better experienced."

West Ranch

Last season: Sixth in league

Second-year coach Christine Marsh pulls no punches when she says that her girls are going to be swimming against the waves in 2008, considering what happened last year.

"We've got a lot of heart," she said, "but the competition is going to be really, really tough." Helping the Wildcats through stormy seas (or pools) this spring will be senior Carissa Richmond (100-breast, back and relay), junior Chelsey Campbell (freestyle) and sophomore Alvina Wong (butterfly).

"These girls are very dedicated and give 100 percent, but our opponents have much more depth than we do," Marsh said.

BOYS
Hart

Last season: First in league

Coming off a huge victory in the recent Southern Section relays, the question is who will be the "boy Jordan" for Hart this year? According to Neale, it's junior Chris Weber (a breaststroke/IM expert), but it could just as well be super sophomore Kondrad Antoniuk (a 200/500 specialist) or junior sprinter Andrew Scvarna.

These young men will be joined by two senior veterans Brent Stevenson (a 50/100 sprinter) and gridiron (and future Naval Academy attendee) player K.C. Linn (butterfly, backstroke, sprinter). Also look for senior Curren Bates (breaststroke), junior Nicholas Korth (breaststroke, IM) and freshman Alex Ngan (backstroke, freestyle, distance specialist) to pick up some big points for the Indians.

"We've never had such a well-balanced club (both boys and girls) before," Neale said. "But we know this will be a battle this year like it always is. I look forward to the competition."

Valencia

Last season: Second in league

Perdisatt, who also leads the boys club, has finished second far too many behind Hart on this side of the pool, as well, but led by another ninth-grade phenom, she hopes to get over the runner-up obstacle and grab the brass ring.

Bob Hwang has been called one of the fastest 14-year old swimmers - not just in California, but the entire nation. He will lead a large contingent of rookies, who will toil with the likes of sophomore Bryan Kitcher and junior Stephen Roongsathapaul (two sprinters and freestyle specialists).

"Bryan is a really hard-working, dedicated athlete, and Stephen has a lot of potential," said Perdisatt. "And with Bobby, I think this is going to be a great year."

Whether or not 2008 is the season the Vikings put it all together remains to be seen, but the coach feels the ingredients are all in place for the program's ship to finally come in.

Valencia will take on Hart in a huge early match-up on April 2 at the Aquatic Center.

Canyon Boys

Last season: Third in league

Cowboy boys coach Steve Himes prefers to call 2008 a "rebounding" year instead of a "rebuilding" one. Sure his club lost some seniors to graduation, but he feels confident his 20-plus JV kids will more than make up for it.

"It's going to be a tough battle all the way - like it always is here - but we have some really talented young men out there," he said.

Some of that talent includes seniors Phil Bennett (butterfly, backstroke, freestyle, sprinter), Matt Prince (sprint/freestyle) and Casey Barr (backstroke) and junior sprinter Jacob Mijares. Joining these vets will be sophomore Keaunui Harris (sprint/backstroke) and up-and-coming freshman Alex Kim (backstroke, butterfly, sprint).

"I think the varsity boys will do very well this year," Himes said.

"Numbers are not a problem (with 83 on the roster), either, and I see a lot of potential in this club."

Canyon faces an early test on Wednesday at 3 p.m. at the Aquatic Center, taking on a young and hungry West Ranch group.

West Ranch Boys

Last season: Fourth in league

Coach Marsh had a bit more success with the male side in this very competitive sport in a tough league last year.

"I think things went pretty well for us in '07, considering that we did not have a full four-year squad then," she said. "We did better than a lot of people thought we would do, and that's quite an accomplishment, considering all of the strong swimmers in this valley."

Leading the way for West Ranch will most likely be seniors Matthew Leon (200, 500-freestyle, relay) and Gilbert Casequin (a CIF finisher in the backstroke and the freestyle). Joining these veterans will be sophomore Kyle Burke (a 100-breast specialist) and freshman Riley Mita (best at the breaststroke and distance swimming).

"We've got a lot of great kids here who put their hearts and souls into this sport," said Marsh, "but realistically, we know that Hart and Valencia will be very, very strong."

Golden Valley

Last season: Sixth in league

The polar opposite of Hart, it's the numbers that will be a big problem for the Grizzlies in 2008. With about 40 swimmers on the roster, second-year coach Robert Fisher will often scramble for enough bodies to gain decent meet scores.

"I feel a lot better about this team than I did last year, but we will still struggle simply because of a sheer lack of numbers," Fisher said. "The guys we do have, though, will do their best and bring good results."

Some of those young men include seniors Peter Szymonski (100 butterfly, utility swimmer), Ryan Kaldhusal (50, 100 freestyle, backstroke) and Britton Nelson (100 freestyle) , as well as sophomores Sean Rogers (100 butterfly ) and Trevor Terperning (freestyle, backstroke, utility).

A match on Thursday versus West Ranch will be an early indication whether Golden Valley can climb out of the cellar this year.

"I'm looking forward to this meet," Fisher said. "We're still outnumbered and West Ranch is pretty fast, but I think we'll be very competitive."

Note: Messages to Saugus head coach Jim Klipfel were not returned.

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