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Foothill League boys swim preview: Pressure cooker

Valencia is closing fast on power Hart

Posted: March 16, 2013 9:17 p.m.
Updated: March 16, 2013 9:17 p.m.

West Ranch's Tyler Hutten returns as one of the Wildcats' top threats in 2013.

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The Foothill League title might just be up for grabs this season, after Valencia won the Santa Clarita Valley Invitational earlier this month to put a scare into reigning champion Hart.

The Indians return an older, experienced group to the Vikings’ youth.

But Valencia has skill , and just as importantly depth, as both are eyeing each other heading into the league season.

The Indians appear to be the favorite, but anything could happen, especially with talented West Ranch and Saugus squads right behind.

 

Hart

Hart’s 17-year Foothill League title streak could be in jeopardy this season with, most notably, Valencia nipping at its heels.

“Valencia is probably toe-for-toe in every event,” said Hart head coach Steve Neale. “They have depth and they’re a younger team.

Where Hart has the advantage is in its experienced leadership.

The Signal’s 2012 All-Santa Clarita Valley Boys Swimmer of the Year junior Matt Johnson returns as one of the top swimmers in the valley.

He’ll be joined by seniors Quincy Liu and Griffin Scott and sophomore Cole Cogswell.

“They’ll be key,” Neale said. “They’ll be absolutely key. They have all different events and we spread the talent out. It’s not all lobbed into one talent pool.”

The Indians will contend with the losses for Mitch Johnson, Chris Cogswell and Kris Korth.

One up-and-coming freshman could give them some help this season in Tyler Collins, a mid-to-long range distance swimmer.

“We’re looking good at medley and freestyle relays. Matt Johnson is ready to have a breakout year — to break out to the national level. And Cole is ready too. Quincy and Griffin, those guys have been ferocious. They keep each other going. Austin Barreiro, I think we’ll see a breakout year for him, too.”

 

Valencia

The Vikings are closing in on Hart in the race for the Foothill League title, but whether this is their year is another question entirely.

A number of experienced swimmers will take the pool for Valencia, including returning junior sprinter Jack Kerchner

The Vikings feature some quality talent in the form of newcomers, notably freshmen Kevin Dai and Johnny Ellery and transfer Brenden Yoshino. Junior Kyle Frankhuizen and sophomore Josh Unas should also provide Valencia with quality swims this season.

“We have a lot of depth,” said Valencia head coach Mike Bechtholdt. “It makes it a lot easier. But there’s more pressure to get those kids to perform now, So hopefully they don’t feel that pressure and have fun and get out there and race.”

The Vikings are well aware Hart is their biggest threat this season, and as a result, both teams are paying close attention to what the other brings to the table.

“I know we both have our eyes on each other and we know Hart swims pretty good at their league meets,” Bechtholdt said “We have a lot of kids with experience that can be competitive too, and they’re wanting to race Hart and the Hart kids want to race us.”

The margin could be small this season between the two programs, and if the Vikings can take advantage of their depth, it’s possible they could end the Indians’ 17-year league title streak.

 

West Ranch

West Ranch boys swim is fine with the title of darkhorse this season. In fact, the Wildcats would agree with the sentiment.

“If someone’s going to surprise someone it’s definitely going to be West Ranch,” said Wildcats head coach Aaron Worby. “We’re seen as that, not long shot, but we’re seen as that horse that trails in the middle of the pack, but all of a sudden in that last quarter turn we’re the ones breaking for the photo finish.”

The team returns a strong crop of swimmers, including Phillip Wong, Tyler Hutten, Austin Choi, Derek Chang, Alex Arnold and Josh Lin.

Add in newcomers Ian Brower, a freshman, and Gunnar Van Gent, a transfer from Colorado, and the Wildcats believe they have the depth to compete with the top of the Foothill League.

If they’re going to compete with the likes of Hart and Valencia it’s going to take a total team effort, with the Wildcats picking up points in the two through five spots in dual-meet races.

“We’re going to have some depth this year as far as not only having some real top first-place finishes and first-place relay finishes,” Worby said. “It’s going to be about picking up those extra points anywhere from second to fifth place.”

Guys such as Christian Quebral and Jacob Shalkevich are two guys Worby hopes could fill such a role.

 

Saugus

Saugus boys swim will be defined not by its core this season, but by what else it brings to the pool.

The Centurions return top-flight talent, with 2012 All-Santa Clarita Valley swimmer and 2012 Foothill League finals boys swimmer of the meet Jonathan Morsch leading the charge.

Morsch won Foothill League titles in the 200-yard and 100-yard freestyles last season.

Sprinters Justin Lee and Alex Chan also return, though Chan is expected to swim in the breaststroke to help fill a gap in the event.

Freshman Zach Zenteno will be added to the mix, a versatile swimmer who gives Saugus a threat in the butterfly and backstroke events.

The issue for Saugus is where to go from there.

“I actually have more boys this season but they’re not at the varsity level,” Saugus head coach Vicky Donnelly said. “My JV boys are growing and a lot of boys that came out from football and decided to give it a try and they’ve surprised me. It’s a growing process.”

To compete in the competitive Foothill League, Saugus is going to need to rely on other swimmers to score points, athletes like Will Karren.

Karren, in his first year at the varsity level, has already started to impress while filling in for Morsch on the 400-free relay while Morsch has been swimming with his club team.

If more swimmers step up like Karren, Saugus could be a threat this season.

 

Canyon

Canyon enters the season short on numbers, but pleased with the swimmers it will put in the water in 2013.

The Cowboys feature a solid core of returning swimmers, including senior sprinter Johnny Fung and juniors Jackson Cook (backstroke) and Charlie Foote (butterfly).

“We’re doing good. We had three preseason meets, the boys have won all three,” said Canyon head coach Steve Himes. “They’re young and small but they’re able to hold their own right now.”

Newcomers sophomore Connor Carlson (100 and 200 free) and freshman Thomas Hamburger (200 and 500 free) should have a positive impact, as well.

“He’s making the kids push themselves, ‘Look at what this little freshman can do,’” Himes said of Hamburger.

They were hit hard, though, by graduations, losing Matt Howard, Garrett Kelly, Timothy Peak and Matteo Kim.

“We’re going to go in pretty excited to start off league,” Himes said. “I think we’re pumped up.”

 

Golden Valley

The Golden Valley swim team is still in a transition period, trying to build up numbers and skill level to compete with the rest of the Foothill League.

The Grizzlies will likely struggle overall this season, but could have some breakout performances individually.

“For the varsity it’s just about placing high relative to the other teams. We don’t have the numbers on the varsity team to really compete at a team level, but on a race-by-race basis, we’re just trying to score well,” said Golden Valley head coach Jenn Marsden.

Golden Valley’s improvement has already been evident during the preleague season, with the program as a whole breaking 15 school records to this point.

They lost top swimmer Derek Lara but maintain top returners Joshua Lee, Timothy Lee, Gerardo San Jose and Samuel Levy.

San Jose and Levy should both help in the backstroke, while both Lees will swim in relays. Joshua will compete in the butterfly with Timothy swimming the 50 free and 200 individual medley.

The team won’t feature many new faces this season, but juniors Jaylin Young (50 and 100 free and butterfly) and Hunter Kincheloe (500 free) have improved significantly from last season, Marsden said.

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