SANTA MARIA — After carbo-loading on spaghetti the night before and a few days of light workouts before the PAC 7 swim final Wednesday, Arroyo Grande’s Zach Stevens was ready to go.
And his performances will go down in the record books.
Stevens set league records in the 200-yard individual medley with a 1 minute, 55.78-second race and smashed his own PAC 7 best by nearly two seconds in the 100-yard breaststroke with a time of 55.84 seconds.
“I watched tape of my Saturday (prelim) race and that really helped me improve on my back half and my turns,” Stevens said. “I think my training and my tapering really helped a lot. When I started to get tired, I kept telling myself keep your strokes long. Don’t shorten up.”
But on a day when Stevens achieved individual glory, San Luis Obispo’s girls’ team celebrated first place and an undefeated league season by dunking coach Rachael Foe in the pool at Pioneer Valley.
The Tigers won the meet with 453 points, Atascadero was second with 405, and Arroyo Grande placed third with 402 in a tight race, edging fourth-place Righetti, which had 400 points.
“I think we have a close-knit team that supports each other so well,” Foe said. “We have great leadership out of our nine seniors and mental toughness … I don’t mind getting dunked. It has been so much fun to coach this team this year. They earned it.”
And despite finishing second to Righetti, which dominated with 602 points in the boys competition, Arroyo Grande’s coach and team was thrilled with a second-place result with 479 points, squeaking by San Luis Obispo’s 464 for third.
“That was what we wanted coming in,” Arroyo Grande boys coach Russell Peterson said. “We knew we had a chance at San Luis Obispo, and we’re always trying to catch them. The team did great today.”
In addition to Stevens’ stellar meet, some other swimmers who achieved impressive marks were Atascadero senior Rachel Gruetzmacher, who set a league record of 24.48 in the girls 50-yard freestyle, and San Luis Obispo’s 200-yard medley relay team of Nolan Newland, Tyler Andree, Graham Johnson, and Ryley Washbish, which set a school record in 1:39.27 despite placing second to Righetti’s powerhouse team that set a league record at 1:36.39.
Washbish swam as the anchor in the freestyle, and started the leg in third. He outpaced an Arroyo Grande swimmer to help his team place second.
“In a race like this, you’re so pumped up, I just wanted to take deep breaths and slow down in a way,” Washbish said. “I just tried to picture everything going exactly the way we wanted. That’s great to get the school record.”
Another Tiger, junior Japanese foreign exchange student Mariko Konno of Fukushima quit swimming seven years ago, but took it up again this year to find herself winning the girls 50-yard breaststroke in 38.30.
“It’s very exciting,” Konno said. “I quit because I hated it at the time. But I’ve liked being on the team this year, my first year back. I was hoping for a faster time, but it’s nice to be first place.”
Paso Robles’ boys team placed fourth, and junior Joseph Brown was very happy with his 4:48.13 time to finish second in the 50 freestyle. Not only was the time a personal best, he automatically qualified for the CIF-Southern Section preliminaries, which will be held May 10 in Riverside building up to the May 11 final.
“I’m used to swimming a mile on my club team, so I’m pretty comfortable with distance races,” Brown said. “I think the difference between sprints and long distance is that sprints depend on how you feel and distance events are how you plan your race. I came out faster than usual today, but backed off a bit. I just swam my hardest.”
San Luis Obispo’s girls welcomed wins from Teagan Griffith, who swam a 54.4 in the 100-yard freestyle, and Gabrielle Penvenne, who was a half-second off the league record with a 59.83 100-yard backstroke, an automatic CIF-Southern Section prelim time.
For Stevens, perhaps the MVP of the meet, a future in college swimming could lie ahead. Peterson credits the junior with being “a student of the sport,” who is constantly honing his technique. That included attending an invitational-only swim camp, based on his times, at the Olympic training complex in Colorado Springs, Colo.
“He’s real cerebral,” Peterson said. “He really studies the sport, and is constantly trying to see what he can do to get better with his technique. That camp exposed him to some technique and technology that we can’t offer at the high school level. He keeps on getting better.”