The most celebrated girl swimmer in West Bay Athletic League history stopped by her old pool to see how her old Sacred Heart Prep teammates were faring in the league championship meet on Saturday.
"It feels weird not to be out there," said Ally Howe, now a freshman at Stanford.
During her four years at SHP, Howe dominated the league and left a legacy that included six individual league records and two relay marks. She also holds every individual mark in Sacred Heart Prep history, in addition to swimming on all three record-holding relays.
While her records likely will be safe for some time and her talent will be missed, Howe's teammates managed just fine without her as both SHP teams won their overall league championship for the sixth straight year.
"We haven't lost since joining the WBAL in 2009-2010," said SHP head coach Kevin Morris.
The SHP boys rolled to 514 points to dunk rival Menlo School (377) while the SHP girls held off Castilleja, 375-299. The finishes were the same as last year, but the girls' meet was much closer as SHP tallied 504 points last year as Howe set two individual league records and swam on two record-setting relays.
SHP won eight events last year and just four on Saturday. Still, the Gators had more than enough depth to defend.
"For our girls, when the season began I thought I would have a logjam of sprinters," said Morris. "Last year Kathryn Bower was our sprinter; she won the 50 free and 100 free at WBAL, but we knew we also had incoming freshman Matte Snow, whose best events are also 50 free and 100 free. Well, Kathryn has been training so hard that she shifted to become a distance swimmer."
Bower took second in the 200 free (1:53.77) to Castilleja freshman Izzi Henig's meet record of 1:50.61, but came back to take the 500 free in 5:06.00 -- ranking No. 2 in school history to Howe.
Snow took care of the sprints, winning the 50 free in 24.58 and the 100 free in 52.59. Snow is the No. 1 seed in the 100 for the Central Coast Section Championships this weekend.
SHP's only other victory came in the 400 free relay as three sophomores (Maddy Johnston, Maddie Pendolino and Bower) plus one freshman (Snow) won easily.
"Our team is young, but I was also excited that 15 of our 18 girls swam well enough to qualify for an individual swim at finals, and a few of them were freshmen who had never been on a swim team before."
Speaking of youth, Castilleja's Henig was the individual standout of the meet as she took the 200 free in the No. 2 CCS time this season and added a 56.63 victory in the 100 fly. She also anchored the Gators to victory in the 200 medley relay (1:51.80) and 200 free relay (1:41.86). Sophomore teammate Natalie Tuck won the 100 breast in 1:06.49.
In the boys' meet, SHP also won four events while relying on its superior depth to easily defend.
"This was probably the hardest-working group I've had, top to bottom," said Morris. "The seniors, especially Michael Swart and Nelson Perla-Ward, really set the tone that the team just grinds at practice, and the big group of freshman boys really bought into the culture.
"We had some water polo players who, truthfully, were pretty crumby swimmers when the season began. I even had to teach a few of them how to do flip turns during the first few days of practice. Then, this weekend, they were getting close to the CCS cuts. Our girls team has a few stars like Kayla, Matte, and Kathryn, but the boys team has a much more equal feel."
In the boys 100 free, for example, SHP actually had seven of the fastest nine times at trials, even though the rules only allow only four to swim at finals and they went 2-3-4-5 for 62 points.
"We were excited to have Jack Hocker and Ben Barrera qualify for CCS on Friday, and Jackson Enright's come-from-behind victory in the 500 free (4:50.66) was a real highlight. And we loved Finn Banks winning the 100 backstroke (58.87). The time wasn't impressive compared to other leagues (apparently no one in the league has a backstroker), but he's been battling mono all year, so it was neat for him to win."
Menlo, meanwhile, was led by its sprinters -- Weston Avery, Scott Little and John Reinstra. Avery was a somewhat surprise winner in the 50 free while clocking 21.77 from Lane 6. Little, the trials winner, was second in 22.15. He came back to win the 100 (48.71) with Reinstra taking the 200 free in 1:46.80.
PAL Bay Division
The Menlo-Atherton girls followed up on their 6-0 dual-meet season by taking the overall title with a 580-point effort at the league finals at Burlingame High on Saturday.
The M-A boys, who had finished second to Carlmont during the dual-meet season, turned the tables on the Scots in the narrowest of victories, 499-497.
"With regards to the varsity boys, we knew it would be close," said M-A head coach Jane Worden. "The team showed up (literally and figuratively) and raced their hearts out. The meet came down to the last relay. By the amazing effort of three seniors (Gordon Williams, Mattheus Santos and Zach Goland) and one freshman (Max Ferenczy) we held off Burlingame and held onto our slim lead!"
Carlmont actually won the final 400 free relay in 3:15.47 with M-A second in 3:17.64. The Scots were within eight points prior to the race and needed the Bears to finish third. Had that happened, the meet would have finished tied at 497.
"Gordon and Zach have been a huge part of M-A's success over the past four years too," said Worden. "Fortunately, they have one more meet as M-A swimmers. They, along with our other CCS qualifiers Jak Tedesco, Scott Kuhnen and Mattheus Santos, are focused on CCS and getting into as many finals as possible."
Goland, Tedesco and Kuhnen were the only individual winners for M-A as Goland won the 500 free in 4:49.64, Tedesco took the 100 back in 56.03 and Kuhnen the 100 breast in 1:02.12.
Carlmont led by 34 points after the 200 free relay, but the Bears closed to eight after having three in the top five in the 100 back. The Bears took the lead by 12 points after the 100 breast.
Carlmont got to within eight points after edging M-A in the consolation finals of the 400 free relay.
The M-A girls, meanwhile, bounced back from losing the 2014 dual meet and league meet titles to Burlingame in impressive fashion.
"The team's success over the season was a little surprising since we lost three seniors who scored at CCS last year," explained Worden. "This year, every girl on varsity contributed. At PALs, almost all of them made it to finals. It was truly a team effort."
M-A had individual winners in sophomore Faith Dunn (200 IM in 2:16.11), sophomore Claire Haldeman (100 fly in 59.36) and junior Mary Lane (500 free in 5:26.22).
The Bears also won the 200 medley relay (1:53.89), 200 free relay (1:39.40) and 400 free relay (3:42.34) without one senior competing. In fact, only one M-A senior (Francesca Gilles in the 100 back) scored in the championship finals for M-A.
"At CCS, our two talented sister divers, Mia and Talbott Paulsen, should make a significant impact," said Worden. "And like the boys, our CCS qualifiers (Sophia Bergmann, Faith Dunn, Kate Denend, Claire Haldeman, Emma Kaufman, Mary Land and Maddie Worden) have their sights set on making it to as many finals as possible, especially in the relay events.
"Both JV teams were on fire (Saturday), too. They dominated the competition in almost every event. It was a good sign for the future of our swim program!"