Santa Margarita watched the CIF State Swimming and Diving Championships last May as interested contenders, anticipating a time when the Eagles would join the exciting races.
Their moment arrives this weekend.
Santa Margarita’s boys and girls are notable newcomers to the third annual state championships, which will be held Friday and Saturday at Clovis West High in Fresno.
The Eagles’ top-ranked girls, who captured a fourth consecutive CIF-SS Division 1 title in record-setting fashion May 13, won’t be at full strength but appear to have enough speed to at least contend.
“Because of our depth, we’re going to have some fun,” Santa Margarita co-coach Rich Blanc said. “The group that’s going, I think, actually will do pretty well.
“Looking at the points, Palo Alto might be the (girls) favorite, but I think we can finish in the top five. … That would be pretty cool.”
Santa Margarita was among the many O.C. programs that focused last year more on the Olympic Trials than the state meet. The Eagles also didn’t participate in the meet’s maiden voyage in 2015.
Blanc and his brother and co-coach, Ron, still attended the championships in Fresno last spring. They scouted potential hotels, travel logistics and places to eat. The duo also discovered the meet was packed with speed.
“CIF will always be our focus, but we hope to have the state meet as a focus, too, now,” said Rich Blanc, whose squad set a Division 1 record with 461 points in the CIF-SS Finals. “The group we’re taking, they’re excited.”
The Eagles’ girls won’t feature Samantha Shelton, Ella Ristic or Isa Odgers, but will have standouts Anicka Delgado, Mackenzie Degn, Marriott Hoffman and Amy Qin.
Last weekend, Delgado and Degn helped Santa Margarita set the national private high school record in the 400-yard freestyle relay with a Division 1 and county-record time of 3 minutes, 18.26 seconds.
Delgado, Degn and Hoffmann raced on the Eagles’ 200 free relay (1:32.33) that blazed an Orange County and Division 1 record at the Division 1 finals. Delgado also captured the 100 butterfly in 54.02.
Most of Orange County’s powerhouse swimming community still isn’t sold on the state meet. The county’s Fresno-bound fleet includes about 15 schools, including defending California girls champion Crean Lutheran.
The Saints won’t feature Eva Merrell but will have Elise Garcia, the defending state champion in the 50 free.
A variety of events continue to pull the county’s athletes away from the state meet. USA Swimming’s open water nationals are this weekend at Castaic Lake. USA Diving is hosting individual World Championship trials in Indianapolis, an event that grabbed two-time defending state champion Colten Young of Crean Lutheran.
Swimmers also are focused on the Phillips 66 nationals, which start June 27 in Indianapolis, while others are eager to return to water polo.
“I still think Northern California is more into this meet than Southern California,…