Santa Margarita Girls, Boys Hold Serve in CIF-Southern Section Prelims, But Loyola Is Charging


  • May 2-4, 2024 (swimming)
  • Mt. San Antonio College – Walnut, California
  • SCY (25 yards)
  • Meet Central
  • Psych Sheets
  • Results on Meet Mobile: “2024 CIF-SS Division 1”

Heading into the CIF Southern Section Division I Championship meet, both meets, on paper, were due to be runaways in favor of Santa Margarita High School. The school won both California High School State Championships last season and were seeded to dominate the state’s best section this year.

While one of those runaways, for the girls, proved out in prelims, the boys’ meet tightened considerably in prelims between two of the top programs in the state of California.

Scoring of the psych sheets implied a 411-256 margin in favor of Santa Margarita over Loyola, the 2023 CIF runners-up. Scoring out prelims, however, gives Santa Margarita a 392-356 advantage, on paper, going into finals.

That’s still a notable gap at a high school meet, but the margin for error has shrunk considerably.

Girls’ Prelims Highlights

In the girls’ meet, Santa Margarita was already knocking on the door of multiple D1 Meet Records.

Junior Teagan O’Dell, a double World Champion last summer, had the top time in prelims of both the 200 IM (1:54.81) and the 100 fly (51.99). That put her within reach of her own Meet Record in the 200 IM of 1:54.07 from last year and three-time World Champion Katie McLaughlin‘s Meet Record in the 100 fly of 51.53.

That 100 fly was a shift in event choice for O’Dell – last year, she swam the 100 back (setting a Meet Record) at the D1 Championships.

Santa Margarita’s depth gave them top seeds in all three relays – even with only using O’Dell on one of her allotted two in the heats. She split 24.55 on the backstroke leg of their 200 medley relay where they touched in 1:40.52 – about a second off their 2022 Meet Record. That time was over three seconds clear of the next-best relay, Mira Costa (1:43.77), who were led by a 25.34 backstroke leadoff from junior Delaney Herr.

They also swam 1:35.58 to lead the 200 free relay, including a 23.53 leadoff from Victoria Mori, and the 400 free relay in 3:26.36, where Mori anchored in 50.50.

That 400 free relay saw the tightest battle of the three, with Mira Costa just .15 seconds back in 3:26.51. They were buoyed by a Bella Brito anchor of 48.99.

Not using O’Dell in prelims means that Santa Margarita has the ability to choose the free relay where they need her most in finals – likely this 400 free relay. She has a flat-start best time of 48.2 in the 100 yard free, which means even if she’s not on a full taper, she likely can improve this relay by two-or-more seconds.

Individually, Brito qualified 3rd in the 200 IM in 2:01.77 and 2nd in the 100 breaststroke in 1:01.79 behind Fountain Valley’s Kaitlyn Nguyen. Brito and Nguyen are also juniors, part of a dominant junior class in the girls’ meet.

Other Top Qualifiers:

  • Fountain Valley freshman Alyssa Ton leads the 200 free field by over two seconds with a prelims 1:46.31. Still only 14, that swim moves her up to 14th-place in the all-time 13-14 rankings in the event, one spot ahead of World Record breaker Regan Smith.
  • Santa Margarita junior and Cal commit Gracyn Aquino was the only swimmer sub-23 in the heats of the girls’ 50 free, swimming 22.83. El Segundo sophomore Sora Koike qualified 2nd in 23.19. That’s a best time for Koike by three-tenths of a second.
  • In the absence of Brito, the aforementioned 48-second relay splitter. Poly-Riverside sophomore Ava DeAnda qualified first in the 100 free in 49.50 ahead of Aquino’s 50.03.
  • Wilson LB’s Samantha Hamilton opened up a big margin early and coasted to the top qualification of 4:47.01 in the 500 free. Hamilton, a Kentucky commit, was 4:46 in February. Not only was that the top time in the heats by a wide margin, it was five-seconds clear of any other seed coming into the meet, making her a big favorite in finals.
  • Mira Costa’s Delaney Herr, who had the second-best backstroke split on the medley relay behind only O’Dell, led prelims of the 100 back individual event in 54.36. At this meet last year, she was seeded 2nd going into finals, but was DQ’ed.

Boys’ Prelims Highlights

The boys’ meet featured three of the last four teams from last year’s California High School State Championship meet: #1 Santa Margarita, #3 Loyola, and #4 Northwood.

That will be the established order headed into finals, with the defending state champions doing enough to maintain their favored status, but the boys from Loyola nipping closely at their heels.

SMA opened the day with a 1:30.73 in the 200 medley relay, a second ahead of Loyola thanks in large part to a 21.14 butterfly split from senior Daniel Verdolaga, an Army-West Point commit. Verdolaga unsurprisingly qualified first in the 100 fly in 47.19, about three-tenths slower than what he swam at last week’s Trinity League Championships.

They again took the top spot in the 200 free relay in 1:23.38, this time a second ahead of JSerra’s 1:23.46. The difference-maker this time was senior Hunter Cehelnik, who led St. Margarita off in a 20.03 split, very-nearly cracking 20 seconds for the first time. He did not swim the 50 free individually, instead racing the gauntlet of the 200 free (7th seed – 1:38.66) and the 100 free (44.21).

Santa Margarita has the luxury of saving Cehelnik for their two free relays, and there he proved his worth again, anchoring 43.86 to run-down Northwood’s Derek Hitchens (who had the second-best split of the field in 44.47 on their anchor). Santa Margarita touched first in 3:00.57, while Northwood was 2nd in 3:00.87. Loyola was well-back in 3rd in 3:04.67.

That Northwood 400 free relay showed off their freestyle depth, which was also on display in the aforementioned 200 free. Northwood had three of the top four finishers in the heats: sophomore Andrew Maksymowski was first in 1:36.31, the junior Hitchens was 3rd in 1:38.01, and junior Will Chen was 4th in 1:38.22. La Canada senior Pierce O’Grady snuck in as the 2nd qualifier in 1:36.37.

That’s another best time for Maksymowski in what has been a spring semester full of them. He has set a personal best at each of the last five meets he’s raced it, dating back to a 1:37.65 at Winter Junior Wests in December. In total, he has dropped over three seconds from the 1:39.60 that he swam at this meet last year for 6th place in the heats.

Incidentally, the top 8 in this year’s prelims were all sub-1:39; last year, only three swimmers did that, showing just how far the depth has come at this meet.

Maksymowski also qualified first to the final in the 500 free in 4:23.46. He once again out-touched O’Grady, who qualified 2nd in 4:24.62 after leading most of the race but fading late. Maksymowski split 51.52 on his last 100 yards while O’Grady split 53.36.

That was a rare non-best time for Maksymowski, who has been about three-tenths better in this race. At last week’s Pacific Coast League Championships, he won the 50 free (20.87) and 100 free (44.76), flexing his range, but this weekend he showed that he is still a little better in the middle-distance races than he is in the sprints.

While Loyola doesn’t have that depth, they hit on all cylinders in prelims to help close the gap, on paper, versus Santa Margarita. Senior Andrew Brown qualified first ahead of a tight field in the 50 free, swimming 20.50. That’s a new best time for him. Neither Northwood nor Santa Margarita has any scorers in that 50 free, whereas Loyola has one in the “A” and two in the “B”, so that’s an opportunity for them to make up points.

Junior Ray Liu led three Loyola swimmers into the “A” final of the boys’  100 backstroke, swimming 48.78. While that’s about 1.1 seconds shy of his personal best, senior Kenny Lou (#4 seed) went a best time of 49.69 and junior John “Trey” Mastrandrea (#8 seed) dropped over a second to go 50.93.

Other Top Qualifiers:

  • San Marino senior Daniel Li qualified first in the 100 breaststroke in 53.19. A Stanford commit, Li was 52.43 to win last year’s Division 2 title before San Marino was promoted to Division 1 this season. He was also the only sub-25 split on the 200 medley relay, checking a 24.44 for San Marino’s third-place quartet.
  • Daniel Verdolaga from Santa Margarita, previously mentioned as the top qualifier in the 100 fly, also had the fastest heats swim in the 200 IM. There he faces a tough task with the top three performers in the heats all having #1 seeds in other events. Beside Verdolaga, that includes Daniel Li (1:48.58) and Ray Liu (1:48.97).

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Bama Slama
2 months ago

Vengeance is coming 🦇

2 months ago

Some notes here:

1. Not sure Hunter went 20.03; it feels like a missed touchpad thing (their next swimmer, Nathan, swam 21.53 and I would estimate Hunter swam ~20.5 and Nathan ~21.0). Just a hunch and no I was not at the meet so feel free to prove me wrong for being a hater and I’d love to see him match it.

2. Maksymowski’s 500 Free isn’t a PB; you did mention it but you also mentioned it was a PB.

3. In much the same way SM was saving Teagan on the women’s side, Loyola seems to also be saving Ray Liu and Andrew Brown for the men’s side, presumable for the 400 Free Relay.

Appreciate the article and… Read more »

2 months ago

Anything interesting at the other Ds, or only at D1?

2 months ago

i love that Katie McLaughlin, Abbey Weitzeil, and Kaitlin Sandeno still have the meet records. Those were legendary swims!

About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder/co-owner of He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

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