Suit ban puts CCS spotlight back on athletes for swim finals

High-tech suits are history, but fast times may not be in 2010 finals

by Keith Peters

Palo Alto Online Sports

It didn't take long for the records to start falling at the 2009 Central Coast Section Swimming and Diving Championships. The very first race during the trials -- the girls' 200 medley relay -- saw Palo Alto established a new standard. After that, the floodgates were open.

By the time the meet concluded on a warm Saturday afternoon at the George F. Haines International Swim Center in Santa Clara, a whopping 18 meet records had fallen in the trials and finals. Even more eye-popping were the 124 automatic All-American times clocked.

The fast times came with such ridiculous ease that 10 boys clocked automatic All-American times in the 100 freestyle -- including two in the consolation finals. The winning time of 43.71 broke a CCS record that had stood since 1980.

At meet's end, everyone was talking about all the records that had fallen and the reason behind them -- the revolutionary high-tech swimsuits the athletes were wearing.

This wave of record-breaking around the nation washed over the sport like a tsunami and forced officials to take quick action. In August of last year, high-tech suits linked to record performances were banned for all high school competition.

"These high-tech suits had fundamentally altered the sport and become more similar to equipment, rather than a uniform," said Becky Oakes, an assistant director of the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS). "The rules of swimming have always prohibited the use or wearing of items that would aid in the swimmer's speed and/or buoyancy. The technical suits and styles had evolved to a point where there was little, if any, compliance with these basic rules.

"With new developments in the swimming community, the (rules) committee knew that in order to preserve the integrity, tradition and heritage of the sport, as well as protect and enhance the interscholastic swimming program, these new requirements were necessary to promote fair play and the educational values of high school and could not wait for another year."

So, those full-length, tight-as-a-second-skin suits that were so prominent on the pool deck at the '09 CCS championships are history. Despite the seemingly obvious improvements the suits offered, local coaches say good riddance.

"The rule change was a good idea," said Gunn coach Mark Hernandez. "There will always be 'haves' and 'have nots' in sports, but last year it was quite clear that if you couldn't afford -- or didn't have a club coach who could provide you with -- a special suit, you were fighting an uphill battle.

"Swimming and diving has never been totally 'fair', as evidenced by the fact several schools in our league prohibit diving boards as their pool. But, last year it wasn't even close. By the end of the (CCS) meet last year, the suits were the real stars, and the emphasis shifted from the swimmers."

Palo Alto sophomore Jasmine Tosky was one of the biggest stars at last year's meet. She set two CCS records (trials and finals) in the 200 IM (1:57.94), set a section mark in the 500 free prelims (4:43.96), anchored the 200 medley relay to a pair of CCS records (the second at 1:44.31) and set a section mark of 48.98 in the 100 free on her leadoff leg of in the 400 free relay.

Appropriately, perhaps, was the fact Tosky wore a full-length golden suit from an Italian suit maker that truly looked like a second skin. Despite its potential advantages, Tosky is glad things have returned to normal.

"It's kind of nice they banned the suits," she said this season. "I don't think that's the point of swimming."

Paly coach Danny Dye agreed.

"I am glad those suits are gone," he said. "I think it was unfair from a cost perspective and equity in that manner."

Sacred Heart Prep coach Kevin Morris said their is a general acknowledgment that the times at this weekend's CCS finals in Santa Clara will be a bit slower than last year.

"Although, I haven't really heard anyone express that as a negative thing," he said. "The kids are all swimming fast. Remember, those suits really only came out at CCS (in 2009), not the league meets. And, if you look at the psych sheet, there's plenty of speed still there. Last year was a perfect storm of the technology of the suits and some amazing athletes. The suits may have dropped the times a bit, but these kids are still unbelievable."

Added Dye: "I think the great swimmers will still swim fast. It is the next level swimmers and below that benefited the most from those suits."

Hernandez agreed.

"I don't think the change in the suit rule will change much for the top-end swimmers," he said. "Those swimmers are going to place high regardless. Where I think we'll see the difference is in places 5 to 16 and beyond. That is, someone who finished seventh last year in a (fast) suit may have to fight to finish in the top 8, or the top 16.

"I don't see anyone breaking the Saratoga boys' national record (3:00.68) in the 400 free relay, for example, but it will still be fast, and it will be more about what the swimmers are doing than what they are wearing."

Morris sees another side of the story, which is the fact the CCS keeps dropping the CCS cuts "because too many people make the meet and, no matter how low the time standards are, there are still tons of people in each event," Morris said. "I think that's great. What a great example of how, whatever the goal is, people will reach it."

One big goal this weekend for the Palo Alto girls is to find a way to win a championship. The Vikings lost to Mitty in '09 by just three points, and Dye has been trying to figure a way to make sure that doesn't happen again when the section finals get under way Saturday at 2 p.m.

In what may appear to be a strange move on his part, Dye has moved Tosky out of the events she won last year -- the 500 free and 200 IM -- and put her in the 200 free and 100 fly.

Tosky is the top qualifier in the 200 free with a school-record 1:47.86 that is just off the CCS record of 1:47.58 set in 1998 by Loni Burton of Monta Vista. Tosky swam her time in the SCVAL De Anza Division finals while she was untapered and unshaved -- and not wearing a high-tech suit.

In the 100 fly, however, Tosky comes in with only the seventh-fastest time (57.69) while fellow sophomore teammate Margaret Wenzlau is No. 5 at 57.16. There are three Mitty swimmers among the top eight, and thus Dye believes having Tosky in the race is crucial.

"I think that Margaret and Jasmine can control the points from Mitty in the fly," he said, "maybe knock a swimmer into consols, plus take away the win and momentum from Mitty. Plus, if I take her (Tosky) out of the IM, then (junior) Sarah (Liang) can win that one. Last year we lost by three points. If I take the gamble and let Jasmine win an event that Sarah isn't in, we can make up those three points."

Mitty sophomore Charlotte Ruby has the fastest qualifying time in the 100 fly of 55.51. If Tosky wins and Wenzlau finishes ahead of two other Monarchs, the Vikings will take plenty of momentum into the next event -- the 100 free, where Mitty has no swimmers among the top 30.

Paly, however, has only one among the top 16, junior Sabrina Lee. She will play a pivotal role not only in the 100 free but the 100 back, where she ranks 10th and is sandwiched between two Mitty entrants. If Lee can break up Mitty's points there, it sets up Liang for a title defense in the 100 breast, where she ranks No. 2 behind Mitty's Eva Chen.

If Paly has the lead after the 100 breast, the Vikings have their third CCS title in the bag heading into the 400 free relay where Paly is a clear favorite to beat Mitty.

That race, however, could go to the Gunn girls, who set a school record of 3:30.36 at the league finals and are primed to have perhaps their best CCS meet ever.

"We do expect a top-five finish this year," said Hernandez, whose team was sixth last year. "Our lineup is not without holes but, then, no one else's is either. Our girls are excited, especially the many who didn't shave and taper for the league championship meet. Our team is both experienced and young, and we are as athletic as we've ever been. We're going to do very well."

Gunn has three solid relays, the slowest (200 medley) of which ranks No. 4 going into Friday's trials. The 200 free relay is No. 3 and the 400 free relay No. 1. That sprint strength also shows up in the 50 free, 100 free and 200 free.

Sophomores Rachael Acker and Julia Ama carry the hopes in the 50 with Ama and seniors Teva Levens and Alex Lincoln in the 100 and sophomore Casey Lincoln in the 200 and 500 frees. Junior Emily Watkins and Levens could score big in the 100 breast.

Gunn could help Paly's title hopes by taking away points from Mitty. The Titans also could ruin the Vikings' hopes, as well.

Friday's prelims will be telling as will the diving competition. Paly has four divers among the top 13 -- Grace Greenwood, Sophie Jorasch, Emma Miller and Serena Yee. They need to score enough points to help neutralize Mitty's Stephanie Phipps, the defending champion.

Other local girls looking for individual honors will be Menlo-Atherton senior Sarah Winters (200 free, 500 free), Pinewood senior Stephanie Lim (200 free, 100 fly), Sacred Heart Prep senior Katie Howard (100 free) and SHP sophomore Erin Sheridan (50 free, 100 free).

In the boys' meet, Bellarmine is favored to win a 26th straight section title with Valley Christian challenging. Sacred Heart Prep has the talent for a top-five finish while Paly likely isn't as strong as last year's seventh-place finish.

Along with Paly's Tosky, Sacred Heart Prep sophomore Tom Kremer is a perfect example of an athlete excelling without the aid of a high-tech suit. Kremer has the No. 1 qualifying time in the 100 back (51.33) and the No. 2 time (1:41.02). Both are automatic All-American times and personal bests. His 100 back time is a school record while his 200 free clocking ranks No. 2 in school annals.

Kremer, senior David Culpan, juniors Andrew Savage and Philip Bamberg make up formidable relays in addition to their individual contributions that could make some big waves this weekend.

Palo Alto will be led by sophomore Byron Sanborn, the No. 1 qualifier in the 100 breast (59.92) who'll also be a factor in the 200 IM. Kei Masuda (100 fly), Nick Henze (100 free) and Scott Swartz (100 back) and Max Wilder (50 free) will help carry Menlo-Atherton's hopes.

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