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Will Hart stay on top?

Foothill League schools target favored Indians

Posted: March 22, 2009 1:38 a.m.
Updated: March 22, 2009 4:55 a.m.
If you take a look across the Foothill League landscape, one question may come to mind.

Can anyone topple the Hart giant?

Fresh off the girls’ CIF-Southern Section Division II title, the Indians return a core of swimmers that have them pegged yet again as the team to beat.

And they will do so in a league elevated to Division I status this season.

“They know they are in everyone’s crosshairs,” said Hart head coach Steve Neale. “A lot of programs would judge the success of their program off how they do against Hart High.”

It starts with All-American senior Jordan Danny, sophomores Sam Asencio and Hayley Good, junior Maggie Hanson and senior Rachel Stoffel.

They are joined by senior Chelsea Griffiths, a transfer from Canyon who had to sit out last season due to eligibility restrictions, junior Kelli Miller and varsity newcomers Nicole Antoniuk and Nicolette Barreiro.

The individual talent and potential of the relay teams have the Indians primed for another successful season.

The boys side should be much closer.

Led by senior Chris Weber, who excels in the breaststroke and individual medley, Hart will feature Konrad Antoniuk, a junior All-American distance freestyler; Nick Korth, last season’s breakstroke individual champion; senior Andrew Skvarna and sophomore Alex Ngan.

Mitch Johnson and Chris Cogswell are new and ready to bolster the roster.

Hart boys have repeated as Foothill League champions every year since 1998, but this season they will face close competition from Valencia.

“Valencia has some superstars who might be the king of the valley,” Neale said.

The Indians will square off against the young Vikings on April 15.

Ask any coach in the Foothill League and they will tell you the same thing.

Valencia — the boys team in particular — will give Hart a run for its money this season.

Led by sophomore Bob Hwang, last season’s 200-yard freestyle and 100 butterfly champion, the young Vikings will look to push the Indians this year.

“We’ve got a good crop going out and a good crop coming,” said Valencia head coach Mike Bechtoldt.

Hwang and the Vikings will be bolstered by seniors Stephen Roongsathapaul and Billy Kutylo, junior Bryan Kitchener and sophomores Stephen Haw and Kevin Martinez.

With so much talent coming in the program, Bechtoldt said he has to keep his up and coming swimmers down on junior varsity for the time being.

For the girls, seniors Megan Machinya and Kaitlyn Salovich and sophomore standout Micaela Valasquez are all back from their second-place team finish.

“If we swim them (tough) this year and can get a relay win this year, it could make it really interesting,” Bechtoldt said of the coming meet with Hart. “Our kids know their kids really well because they swim with them on club teams. It should be really interesting.”

Another program primed to give Hart a run for its money is Canyon.

Led by junior Kearsten Livingstone, the returning 100 backstroke and 100 butterfly league champion, the Cowboys return a wealth of talent

Livingstone is joined by sophomores Adria and Allison Morales, and seniors Sarah Pino, Milena Lopez, Chika Condo and Marissa Rodgers.

“During dual meets, I think we will be able to beat most of the teams,” said head coach Steve Himes. “I think it will be a challenge, but I think we will be right long as everyone stays healthy.”

Among the Cowboys’ returners on the boys side is junior Keaunui Harris, last year’s league champion in the 100-yard backstroke.

Jacob Mijares is back for his senior season along with A.J. Simpson, up from last year’s junior varsity team.

Other boys to watch for are Matteo Kim, who joins his older brother Alex on varsity, Timmy Teak, Matt Howard and Kelly Aims.

“The team has been pretty whole,” Himes said. “This year is going to be a good year and definitely next year. I’m pretty excited about the boys this year.”

Himes noted that the talent seems to be spreading out year by year, making the league increasingly competitive across the board.

West Ranch head coaches Christine Marsh and Aaron Worby agree that things are leveling throughout the Foothill League.

Only a sophomore, Riley Mita returns to defend his 500 freestyle league title along with juniors Kyle Burke and Andrew Cselenyak.

“We have a ton of new swimmers this year that have joined our team,” Marsh said. “Everyone is just really excited and they have been working really hard. I think we are really well-rounded on the boys side. We have a strong swimmer in just about every stroke and we have some versatility as well.”

Alvina Wong returns to a girls team bolstered by Kate Kessler’s transfer from Virginia. Kessler already has an automatic qualifying time in the backstroke for the CIF-Southern Section meet.

Coming from Redlands and witnessing the caliber of the talent at the Division I level, Worby believes that West Ranch and the Foothill League will be up to the challenge.

Golden Valley is also undergoing renovation.

First-year head coaches Jenn Marsden and Aaron Monheim are looking to change the culture and build the program that finished sixth on both the boys and girls sides last season.

“We encourage the swimmers to really work hard and feel that a little success is important,” Marsden said. “We just want them to keep that in their mind as they are working, and something they are working toward. They would like to win meets and would like to go to CIFs. It’s a process.”

Both Marsden and Monheim swam for Hart from 2001-04 and want to bring that winning mentality to the Grizzlies.

Junior Michelle Duraj — last season’s 50 freestyle league champion, and Miranda Haramia will anchor the girls while seniors D.J. Williams and Cody Harrison anchor the boys along with juniors Daniel Neswald and Sean Rogers.

“The thing that they need to worry about most is that they have to swim their own race, and that goes for our program,” Monheim said. “We need to go through our season the way we need to go through it, not the way that Hart goes through or Canyon goes through it.”

Some might say the same thing for Saugus, but first-year head coach and Saugus graduate Vicky Donnelly is calling it something different.

“It’s a new era for them,” Donnelly said. “I’ve been calling it the transition year. If anything, we have nowhere to go but up.”

One move this season was to swap out the San Luis Obispo Relays for the ever-competitive Millikan Relays.

Returning to swim the 100 backstroke and butterfly is Jimmy Karren.

“(Karren is) just really raw, a raw talent,” Donnelly said. “He has never swam club. He just started swimming when he was a freshman.”

He will be joined by Justin McCance, Luke Rowley and Alan Gately.

Shelby Green, Esther Vogler and Whitney Cox will play critical roles on the girls side that finished fourth last season.

League play opens up on Tuesday with Golden Valley at Hart at 3 p.m., then resumes on Wednesday when West Ranch faces off with Canyon at 3 p.m. and Valencia matches up with Saugus, also at 3 p.m.

All league meets are held at the Santa Clarita Aquatics Center.


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