Prep Swimming: South Valley swimmers shine at MBL Championships

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Gilroy's Sam Mandel swims the 100 yard freestyle Saturday during the Monterey Bay League championships at Christopher High School.

When Gilroy’s Kimberly Davis and San Benito’s Corey Latham woke up Saturday morning, the two seniors couldn’t help but think about the possibility that they would be swimming in their final individual events of their high school career.
But thanks to their fine performances at the Monterey Bay League Swimming Championships at Christopher High, Davis and Latham made sure the league finals would be their penultimate—not final—meet of the season.
Davis won the 100 yard backstroke in a CCS automatic qualifying time of 1 minute, 3.87 seconds, and Latham won two races—the 200 and 500 free in a CCS automatic qualifying mark of 5:04.84—while Christopher showed once again why it is the premier program in the MBL by winning the overall team championship in both the boys and girls’ divisions.
Since the MBL combines both the upper Gabilan Division and lower Pacific Division championships into one meet, there are two champions for every race, one from both divisions.
However, the team champions are not based solely on Saturday’s finals, as the regular-season dual meets are added into the scoring as well. Based on those factors, Christopher’s girls and boys’ teams were the overall champions, having scored the most overall points out of any team from both divisions.
Believe it or not, the Cougars actually competed in the lower Pacific Division this season, despite winning the league title last year. Not bad for a program that is in its fifth year of existence and didn’t even have its own pool for the first two years of competition.
“It’s rewarding and shocking at the same time, to be hosting the league finals and winning it,” said Jeff Ross, who has been Christopher’s coach since the inception of the swim program. “We’ve come a long way. It only seemed like yesterday when we were going to Gavilan College for our practices, and since we had to be done by 5 (p.m.) our practice times were limited to 1 hour, 10 minutes. We actually carpooled with the track team in those days, and dropped them off first at Gilroy before going to Gavilan. It was crazy.”
It was a spectacular day for Gilroy, Christopher and San Benito, as multiple swimmers from the respective schools shined on the MBL’s biggest stage. Besides Latham, other double individual event winners included Gilroy senior Anna Brolin (50 free in 24.41 seconds and 100 butterfly in 54.89), Christopher junior Natalie Garcia (200 free in 2:02.26 and 500 free in 5:24.76) and Christopher freshman sensation Emma Seery (100 free in 56.26 and 100 breast in 1:13.61).
Besides Davis, other individual single-event winners included San Benito sophomore Grace Larson (100 breast in 1:13.07) and Christopher freshman Malaya Santos (200 individual medley in 2:20.35).
Christopher’s girls also won two relay events: The 200 free relay team of Garcia and freshman Santos, Seery and Ashley DeAbreu went 1:48.11, and the 200 medley relay squad of Garcia and freshmen Kaela Nguyen, Seery and Santos finished in 1:57.53 for the best overall time in both divisions.
San Benito’s girls also excelled in the relays, as their 200 medley relay team of Michelle Brunido, Grace Larson, Haley Larson and Hayleigh Smith won the Gabilan competition in 1:58.33, and the 200 free relay team of Brunido, the Larsons and Shannon Stevens placed second with an excellent time of 1:45.50.
Gilroy’s girls also won a relay event, as their 400 free team of Brolin, Rachel Carnel, Kayla Reeder and Davis won the Pacific race in 4:03.08. On the boys’ side, Christopher was the only local school that was victorious in the relays, as its 200 free squad of Steven Hajdu, Zach Syth, Jordan Jacinto and Max Deliz finished in 1:41.90, and the 200 medley relay team—consisting of the same four swimmers—went 1:57.20 to win the Pacific race.
Among the individual performances, none was more inspiring than Latham’s victory in the 500 free. Having never qualified for an individual CCS event, Latham got it on his final chance, hitting the automatic qualifying mark by 15-hundreds of a second. When Latham touched the wall, he immediately turned in the opposite direction to look at the scoreboard.
Not knowing whether he had hit the automatic qualifying time, Latham erupted with joy once he saw his time. A 5:04.84, a new personal record.
“I was just thinking, ‘Did everything I worked for all these years, was it going to pay off? All the blood, sweat and tears, was it going to be enough?’” said Latham, who was regularly swimming 10-15 seconds slower in the same event a year ago. “And it was. I was overcome with joy that it finally came together. It’s an amazing feeling, and I couldn’t have done it without the great people around me, from my coaches to my teammates to my family. They made it all possible.”
Latham was equally impressive in winning the 200 free, as he out-kicked second-place finisher Emilio Rodriguez of Salinas in the final 50 yards to win going away. Latham prides himself on his ability and willpower to power through the final moments of a race.
“I’ve always wanted to be one of the swimmers who could finish a race strong,” he said. “I don’t want to be the one dying at the end.”
Grace Larson, a sophomore and the younger sister of San Benito standout senior Haley Larson, certainly wasn’t close to tiring on Saturday, as she won the 100 breast and finished second in the 50 free in 25.88, hitting automatic CCS qualifying times in both events.
“I definitely had some nerves going in, but I felt good once I got into the pool and started swimming,” Larson said. “I was able to swim my race, and any time you hit a PR, it’s a good day.”
Along with Latham, Davis was certainly the most animated of the local swimmers. As soon as Davis saw her time after the 100 back race, she raised both of her arms out of the pool and screamed in exultation.
“I woke up today and realized this could’ve been my last meet (for individual races in my high school career),” said Davis, who also finished second in the 200 individual medley. “I had the pre-race jitters, but I knew I just had to keep a good mindset and go out and swim a great race. I couldn’t be happier.”
Her teammate, Brolin, was just as ecstatic with her performance. The Washington State-bound swimmer displayed all of her immense talent in winning the 50 free and 100 fly, the latter in dominant fashion.
Brolin’s time of 54.89 in the 100 fly—one of the top marks in the CCS—was the best overall time of the day by nearly seven seconds.
“I don’t really express my excitement (outwardly), but on the inside I’m really happy,” Brolin said. “When you come to these meets, all you want to do is swim your best, and see where you place. It was a great feeling knowing I gave it all I had.”
In terms of effort, Garcia’s was second to none. But despite posting two wins, Garcia wasn’t overly happy with her times.
The junior standout didn’t PR in either of her individual events, but she accomplished the only thing that mattered—wins in all four of her events. In her best event, the 500 free, Garcia finished in 5:24.76, the overall best time of the day by a whopping 14 seconds.
“I wasn’t happy with my times, but you have to feel good about winning,” she said. “That’s what counts in the end, but it’s hard to feel really great when you’re off your PR by more than a second.”
Garcia gets one more chance to PR in her events at the CCS Championships on May 16-17 at the George Haines International Swim Center in Santa Clara.

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