● Go to PASportsOnline.com to see more of the Midpeninsula's best local sports coverage.
By Keith Peters
Palo Alto Online Sports
Christmas will come early for the Sacred Heart Prep swim teams when they seek to defend their titles at the West Bay Athletic League championships on Thursday in their home pool.
"We talk about how this meet is like Christmas, and we get to 'open the presents' and see what we get," said SHP coach Kevin Morris.
Morris likely will be very pleased with the times and efforts he receives from the league finals, which get under way at 4 p.m. Of the 22 events contested, SHP swimmers lead in 13 of them. The Gators also have seven athletes or relay teams back to defend titles.
"I guess we are the favorite in both the boys' and girls' division, but any league finals can be somewhat unpredictable," said Morris. "Some people are tapered for it, others are tapered for CCS; people have good days and bad days. I certainly like our chances, but there are some good swimmers out there, so we need to swim well."
Sacred Heart Prep has two of the best swimmers in junior Tom Kremer and freshman Ally Howe. Kremer is the defending champ in the 200 IM (a meet-record 1:54.88) and 100 free (46.62) but will only seek to defend in the IM. He's also entered in the 100 fly and will swim on two of the three relays where the Gators have the best entry time in the 400 free relay (3:17.11). The Gators set a meet record of 3:16.05 in the event last season with Kremer and Andrew Savage returning.
Howe has made a huge splash in her first season by breaking four school records (200 free, 200 IM, 100 fly, 100 back). All four times are faster than the winning times at last season's WBAL finals.
Howe's two individual events are the 200 IM and 100 fly. She's more than four seconds faster than defending champ Jessica Khojasteh of Harker in the 200 IM and more than four seconds better than Katie Siegel of Harker in the 100 fly.
"Ally and Tom should do well, obviously, but I'm actually more excited about some of our other swimmers," Morris said. "I'm looking forward to Ally's race against Jessica Khojasteh (Harker) in the 200 IM, since Jessica is the defending CCS champion, but the depth of our team makes this meet fun. We're looking good in the (boys') distance freestyle events (seeded 1-2-3-4 in the 200 free, with freshman Harrison Enright seeded first) and 1-2-3-5 in the 500 freestyle (senior Joe Wise seeded first).
For the SHP girls, they go 2-3-4 in the 200 free with Erica Myers, Pippa Temple and Clare Rudolphh; 1-3-4 in the 200 IM with Howe, Selby Sturzenegger and Eliza Henderson; and 1-3-6 in the 500 free with Henderson, Temple and Lauren Glasby heading into the trials on Wednesday.
"We have an unusually large group of swimmers on the 'CCS bubble', added Morris. "Robert Dunlevie in the 200 free, Chris Hinrichs in the 500 free, Sloane Sturzenegger in the 100 breast, Ally Flessel, Scott Jollymour, and Mackey McGibben in the 50 free. We're hoping it is a really good day for them all.
"Then, of course, there are always the surprise swims that are so fun -- some JV girl dropping five seconds in her 100 free. You never know who it is going to be, but it always happens."
Other top-seeded SHP swimmers are Erin Sheridan (50 free and 100 free) and Savage (50 free).
Challenging the SHP girls will be Harker, runnerup last season, while Harker and Menlo School will contend in the boys' competition. Menlo has the top-seeded 200 medley relay team (1:40.87) and the No. 1 200 free relay squad (1:30.87). That speed is evident in the 50 free where water polo players Nick Hale, Wade Avery and Jack Finch rank 3-4-5.
Other highly seeded boys include Pinewood junior Ted Lim (No. 2 in 100 fly), Menlo freshman Johnny Wilson (No. 3 in 100 fly), Menlo's Hale in the 100 free (No.3), SHP's Hinrichs in the 100 back (No. 2) and Menlo's Finch in the 100 breast (No. 3).
Other highly seeded girls include Josie Furbershaw of Castilleja (No. 2 in 50 free), and SHP's Myers (No. 2 in 100 back) and Sturzenegger in the 100 breast (No. 2).
The Peninsula Athletic League, meanwhile, will hold its trials on Wednesday and Thursday with the finals set for Saturday at Burlingame High starting at 1 p.m.
Menlo-Atherton is the defending champion in all four divisions and Bears' coach Tom McRae is hoping the influx of talent from last season's frosh-soph championship teams will help make a difference at the varsity level.
"We are looking very good again this year," McRae said. "On the varsity girls' side, we added some great new freshman with Maddie Pont, Kindle Van Linge and Nicole Zanolli -- all with CCS top-16 goals. Varsity boys are looking amazing."
The M-A boys have been swimming much faster times during their 7-0 dual-meet season than last season and have the first-place points and depth to contend for another crown. Senior Kei Masuda is back to defend his 200 IM title and senior Nick Henze returns to defend his 100 free crown. Masuda is the No. 1 seed in the 100 fly (53.76) and Henze is top-seeded in the 200 free (1:46.17). M-A senior Evan Navarro, meanwhile, is the No. 1 seed in the 100 free (48.98) and No. 2 in the 200 free.
Masuda would be No. 1 in the 100 back if he chose to swim it after breaking a 37-year-old school record with a 54.29 last week against Burlingame. The top-seeded time for the league trials is 55.56.
Other top M-A boys include Emery Welton, Graham McClelland, Max Wilder, Alex Gow, and Jeff LaPlante.
For the girls, M-A returns 2010 finalists Katherine Liang, Emily Dorst, Brittany Krappe, Holly Chen, and Danielle Flanagan. The addition of the three freshmen, however, may help the Bears hold on to their title. Pont is seeded No. 2 in the 100 free, Zanolli is No. 3 in the 500 free and Van Linge is No. 3 in the 50 free and No. 4 in the 200 IM.
The top qualifiers from the WBAL and PAL finals will advance to the CCS trials on May 20 at the George F. Haines International Swim Center in Santa Clara. The finals will be held on May 21 at 2 p.m.
● Go to PASportsOnline.com to see more of the Midpeninsula's best sports coverage.