By PHIL BARBER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
CONCORD — There is something new in California high school athletics this year: a state championship swim meet. It’s next weekend in Clovis, and the Redwood Empire will be represented.
Swimming at the North Coast Section championships at the Concord Community Pool on Saturday, Maria Carrillo junior Piper Brockley qualified for the CIF meet in the girls’ 200-yard individual medley and the 100 breaststroke, while Petaluma senior Riley Scott qualified by winning the girls’ 200 IM. The Analy girls’ 200-yard medley relay team is also headed to Clovis.
“We have a meet next week,” said junior Lani Auva’a, who swam the butterfly leg for that successful Analy relay quartet. “Last year NCS was it. This year the state meet is it.”
Scott will not swim at the state meet. She is headed to USC today and will begin to train for the long-course events she’ll enter in college and at the 2016 Olympic Trials. In effect, Scott swam her final high school race Saturday — and like her final league meet a week earlier, it was marred by controversy.
Scott was among the favorites in two events at NCS, the 200 IM and the 100 breast, and swam well in both during Friday’s preliminary heats, with the top time in the IM and the second fastest in the breaststroke. But NCS commissioner Gil Lemmon disqualified Scott because she was checked in by a coach who is not certified by Petaluma High School, or by Petaluma City Schools.
Scott had not practiced with her high school team at all this year, so Petaluma coach Liz Seymour did not join her for the NCS meet. Instead, Scott was supported by her Marin Pirates club coach, Warren Lager. As Lemmon explained, this is a violation of CIF rules.
The commissioner initially disqualified Scott from both events. But Petaluma High principal David Stirrat showed up at a CIF management committee meeting at 7 a.m. Saturday morning to advocate for Scott. Stirrat told Lemmon that a coach from the Petaluma school district, Casa Grande’s Polly Mora, had been on hand for Scott’s 200 IM heat on Friday.
On occasion, Lemmon said, a coach from the same district is allowed to stand in. Mora had been in Concord to support senior butterfly swimmer Henry Steiner, and that was good enough to appease section officials. But Mora and Steiner had left the swim center before Scott competed in the breaststroke.
Riley Scott’s father, Shannon, said the family was baffled by the disqualification. Each year Riley has swum at the NCS meet, Shannon said, she has filed paperwork transferring her representation from Seymour to Lager. This year’s filing was no different. The interpretation clearly was.
Lemmon explained that race officials don’t check coaches’ certification closely unless they have reason to doubt its propriety. In previous years they had no such reason; this year they did, partly due to a previous story in The Press Democrat.
“Two wrongs don’t make a right,” Lemmon said. “Once I find an infraction, I’m gonna go ahead and follow up with the schools.”
Not surprisingly, Riley Scott was disappointed by the turn of events.
“I was really looking forward to (the 100 breast),” she said. “I mean, that was the main race. We had talked about it for so long, and how all the senior girls are in that race, and how next year a bunch of us are gonna be gone. So it was going to be a huge madhouse of who could get to the wall the fastest.”
Barred from the race, Scott said she tried to take her drive and motivation for two events and funnel them into one — the 200 IM. It seemed to work as she got out to an uncharacteristically fast start.
“Usually I’m behind in the backstroke,” Scott said. “But I had excellent back splits (Friday) that kept me in front even after the backstroke, and then from there I’m able to go. But I’m used to catching up on the breaststroke, so that’s kind of nice to already be ahead before that.”
Scott’s time of 1:59.78 was a personal best and the fifth fastest in meet history, bumping last year’s mark of 1:59.98 to sixth.
A little more than three seconds behind Scott, in second place, was Brockley at 2:02.90. The Pumas swimmer also tied for third in the 100 breast, touching in 1:02.53, which cracked the all-time NCS top 20. As solid as she was, Brockley knows what she needs to work on this week.
“I definitely need to go out faster in the 100 breast,” she said. “I was expecting a little bit more out of that one. But I get another chance to swim. I’m a racer, so that’s what I love to do.”
The Analy girls’ 200 medley relay team, fresh off a meet record in the Sonoma County League championships, is bound for Clovis, too. Sophomore Marie Alameida, senior Lily Maxfield and junior Christy Schlutius will join Auva’a.
The most Empire-y race of the day was definitely the consolation final of the boys’ 200 IM. Maria Carrillo senior Stefan Keller, Rancho Cotate senior Aric Lang and Analy sophomore Jack Murphy wound up swimming alongside one another in lanes six, seven and eight, respectively. Keller finished 12th in the event, Lang 14th and Murphy 15th.
Murphy was also ninth in the 500 freestyle Saturday. Auva’a was 12th in the 100 butterfly and 13th in the 100 breaststroke, and Steiner was 16th in the 100 butterfly. The Maria Carrillo girls’ 200 medley relay team of Alexandra Fong, Brockley, Victoria Le and Kayla Frank finished 13th to round out the day’s local entries.
Of all the Empire swimmers, few were happier than Lang, the Rancho senior who will swim at Carthage College in Wisconsin next year. He came into the meet seeded 22nd in the IM and 36th in the 100 breaststroke — in other words, not expected to make a run at medaling in either. But Lang finished 18th in the breast, missing the finals by just 36-hundredths of a second, and scored points for the Cougars in the IM.
His big breakthrough came Friday, when he set a personal record by nearly two seconds in the medley.
“At the 100 (yard mark), I had turned, and I was in lane eight, so I could see the entire pool at the turn,” Lang said. “I couldn’t even see anyone else, so I actually thought I was going slower than I wanted to, because I was so far behind. But then after the breast and the free, I realized I had caught everybody back up. … When I saw 55 (he finished in 1:55.24), I was like, ‘That was me?’ ”
That’s the NCS meet, always full of surprises.