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Girls Swim Team wins first-ever CCS Swimming Championship

Rick Eymer, Palo Alto Online Sports
Sacred Heart Prep’s rise to the top of the Central Coast Section girls swimming championship Saturday in Hollister took a circuitous route and was nearly derailed by the pandemic.

Eleven different Gator swimmers scored as SHP accumulated 315 1/2 points, beating St. Francis (274 1/2) and St. Ignatius (271). Castilleja finished seventh (156) with the help of a 1-2 finish of Paige Lai and Madeline Parker in diving, and Menlo School’s one-woman team of Ashely Scafetta was 16th with 30 points.

Gators’ coach Kevin Morris missed the first day of practice because of a quarantine issue. Senior Day had to be cancelled because of “close contact” and most of the seniors were relegated to staying home for a week.
The CCS meet was a surprise all on its own. Morris and most other swimming coaches set up a training regime that did not include the usual season-ending event.

“We really only had a four-week season before our league finals, and then CCS came two weeks after that,” said Morris, in his 20th year at the school. “In fact, we didn’t even find out the CCS meet was happening until the week of our league finals, so we certainly couldn’t have structured our training around a meet we didn’t even know would exist.”

Sacred Heart Prep certainly found a way to improvise and it led to the most successful swimming season in school history.

Three different swimmers won individual titles. Sophomore Audrey J-Cheng won the 200 individual medley with an All-American consideration time of 2:02.99. Junior Kaia Li won the 100 back with a time of 55.60, also All-American consideration. Junior Margot Gibbons won the 500 free in 4:53.59, an All-American consideration time.

J-Cheng went on to place second in the 100 back with an automatic All-American time of 1:02.26, which sets a school record.

Li swam second to J-Cheng in the 200 IM, finishing the race in yet another ‘AAC’ time of 2:03.61.
Gibbons started the day with a third-place finish in the 200 free (1:52.68) and Eleanor Facey, who will be playing water polo at Stanford in the fall, placed eighth in 1:56.26.

Sacred Heart Prep also won the first event of the day. Li, J-Cheng, Annaliese Chen (heading to Swarthmore) and Ella Woodhead went 1:45.18 in the 200 medley relay, edging St. Ignatius by about a half-second.
“That first race was the key race of the meet for us,” Morris said. “It set the tone for the rest of the meet. A few minutes later, Audrey and Kaia went 1-2 in the 200 IM and Annaliese moved up to win the consolation final. That gave us a pretty big lead that we never relinquished.”

Without the 14 teams of the Santa Clara Valley Athletic League, it was a much smaller event and that helped Sacred Heart Prep, which could count on its depth. In addition to Facey, who also placed sixth in the 500 free, the Gators have four other water polo players who swim only in high school and all of them scored.

“The smaller number of swimmers this year worked out fine for us because of our depth, but to be honest we probably had a better team last year when the meet was cancelled,” Morris said, pointing out that Sloane Reinstein was with the team. Reinstein just completed her freshman year at Georgia, where she qualified for the

“I give a lot of the credit for this to the tradition of the team,” Morris said. “With such a wacky season, we were able to hold some semblance of normalcy because of the culture of hard work and dedication the upperclassmen pass along to the underclassmen … it has been a slow journey to get a bit better every year.”

SHP’s 200 free relay team, of Brie Lang, Bella Bachler, Gibbons and J-Cheng, was third and the 400 free relay (Lang, Gibbons, Woodhead, Li) placed fourth.

Lang was the consolation champion in the 50 free. Water polo players Bachler and Kate Brandin also scored in the event.

Katelyn Chan and Jessica Calderoni also contributed to the team’s total.

Scafetta scored her points finishing fourth in both the 200 IM and 100 breast.
n addition to having the top two divers in the section, Castilleja also has a promising freshman in Olivia Detter, who was third in the 100 fly (56.15) and second in the 50 free (23.68). Georgia Wluka, Nina Fearon and Serfina Cortez also scored for Castilleja.

The Sacred Heart Prep boys placed fourth, with Bellarmine winning, followed by St. Francis and Valley Christian.

Top individuals were Hugo Thomas and Cole Ballard placing 4-5 in the 500 free and Gavin West swimming in the championship finals of the 50 free and 100 free.

Will Swart, Conrad Ma and Will McGaughery contributed on the relays.

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Founded by the Society of the Sacred Heart, SHS is a Catholic, independent, co-ed day school for students in preschool through grade 12