By PHIL BARBER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
PETALUMA — It’s official. Sonoma Valley swimming is back.
The resurgence was sealed in dramatic fashion Friday at the Petaluma Swim Center, as the Sonoma boys held off Analy in the 400-yard freestyle relay, the final event of the Sonoma County League swim championships, and earned the league title by a narrow margin, 387-373.
“I definitely think it’s the start of Sonoma being back in the swimming scene,” Dragons co-coach Jane Hansen said.
Analy has dominated SCL swimming for years, but now must contend with a rapidly improving Sonoma Valley program. On the girls side, though, the Tigers haven’t lost their grip. The Analy girls won handily Friday, 616-358 against second-place Sonoma, paced by the powerful Violani Auva’a, who captured the 100-yard butterfly and 100 backstroke and punched her ticket to the North Coast Section swimming championships in both.
The NCS meet is in Concord next weekend.
Auva’a, a junior, was also part of the only SCL relay team that guaranteed itself a spot in the section meet. She was joined by sophomore Marie Alameida, senior Lily Maxfield and junior Christy Schlutius on the Tigers’ 200-yard medley relay.
Auva’a shattered her own meet record in the 100 fly, touching in 56.77 seconds to beat the time of 57.33 she set last year. Likewise, her 200 medley team beat its own mark; the same four girls swam 1:49.68 a year ago, but got there in 1:48.93 this time.
If only a handful of swimmers hit NCS automatic marks, a number earned NCS consideration. That means they are eligible for the Concord meet, but must wait through the weekend to see if they landed among the top 40 times in the section in their respective events.
Those earning NCS consideration included Maxfield in the 200 individual medley and 100 breaststroke, Alameida in the 100 freestyle and 100 back, Analy sophomore Jack Murphy in the 200 IM and 500 freestyle, Analy freshman Sophie Boisseau in the 200 IM and Sonoma Valley freshman Quinn Jensen in the 100 free.
Maxfield, recently crowned as Analy’s Female Scholar-Athlete of the Year and headed to UC San Diego, credited Boisseau with her excellence in the 200 IM.
“It’s always really nice to have somebody next to you to push you,” Maxfield said. “I still haven’t qualified for my automatic time for NCS, so I knew this was my last chance to do it. And I don’t think I could have done it without having Sophie right next to me. She had a really great race. That was her best time all season.”
Several relay teams also earned section consideration: the Analy girls 200 free (Alameida, Boisseau, Schlutius and Auva’a), the Sonoma girls 200 free (Jensen, freshman Hannah Ladouceur, sophomore Cameron Taggesell and freshman Abby Parr) and the Analy girls 400 free (Boisseau, Maxfield, senior Michala Roan and junior Noah Kriegler Allen).
The Tigers’ 200 free relay quartet broke a meet record, set by Sonoma Valley, that had stood since 1998.
Oh, two more relay squads that earned NCS consideration — those battling boys who dueled in the climactic 400 free relay. The Sonoma team consisted of junior Cian Lacy, freshman Dominic Tommassi, sophomore Jackson Mighell and senior Rick Taggesell. The Analy team was Dominic Restivo, Luke Ressler, Jack Murphy and junior Spencer Perdue.
Analy was the top seed coming into the race, but Tommassi, probably Sonoma Valley’s best overall swimmer, pulled away for a sizable lead while swimming the second leg. Things got tight, though, on the final leg as Taggesell had to withstand a furious charge from Murphy.
“I missed a turn on the second lap coming back toward the blocks,” Taggesell said afterward. “I came in too early and just touched it, barely got it. So I started kicking as hard as I could. That’s when everything hit. This was an intense race.”
It has been a remarkable season for the Dragons. They once ranked among the best swim programs in the region, but fell off the map after the school district filled in the on-campus pool in 2005. In some of the years since, Sonoma Valley didn’t even have a swim team.
The renaissance has been engineered by Hansen, who runs the Sonoma Aquatic Club, and co-coach Keith Ryan. They also coach the Sonoma Sea Dragons youth club, creating a natural pipeline to the high school.
It’s working. With just four seniors on the team (one boy, three girls), the Dragons seem primed to stay in contention for quite a while.
The most exciting race Friday may have been the boys 100-yard backstroke. Taggesell entered the contest as the top seed, but he faded a bit, and it turned into a two-man race between Analy freshman Josiah Miller and Healdsburg sophomore Casper Max. Miller was out front by maybe half a stroke as they approached the wall, but Max had a cleaner touch at the end and won the race by three-tenths of a second.
“It was really awesome getting to compete against all of those fast kids at Analy,” Max said. “It would be fun to swim for Analy, but winning year after year gets boring, probably.”
Actually, with Sonoma Valley on the upswing, things should remain pretty interesting for the Tigers.