Believe it or not, when Zach Stevens began Tuesday’s PAC 7 swimming championships, he still had something to prove.
Unbeaten in three years in every individual swim at the meet, the Arroyo Grande High senior entered the final home meet of his illustrious high school career with one omission on his sparkling résumé — a PAC 7 team title.
Perhaps he and his fellow seniors were just saving their best for last, but the Eagles won both boys and girls varsity league championships Tuesday in convincing fashion.
Arroyo Grande unseated both defending champions in the process, topping the San Luis Obispo girls 495-424 and the Righetti boys 597-472.
“It’s my last home meet before heading off to college, and I’m going to miss my teammates, my coaches and everyone who supported me,” said Stevens, who will swim at Cal in the fall. “Winning for A.G., I mean, this is my senior year and it’s the first time we’ve won.
“We’re going to get a banner up in the gym, so I’m pretty stoked.”
Stevens, as expected, was superb.
He broke his own league record in the 200 individual medley, winning in 1 minute, 55.55 seconds. He wasn’t able to best his record-breaking performance from a year ago in the 100 breaststroke, but still blew the rest of the competition out of the water with a time of 56.36.
“I was going for the 55, but 56 is all right because I’m not at a full taper,” the defending CIF-Southern Section Division 2 breaststroke champion said. “For CIF, I want to get down to a 53.”
Fellow Eagles senior Tyler Gamble made sure Stevens wasn’t the only one leaving their home pool on a high note.
The 6-foot-8 Gamble broke the league record in the 50 freestyle by one-hundredth of a second, winning in 21.50 before also taking first in the 100 freestyle.
“To be honest, I wasn’t really thinking about the league record,” he said. “I just wanted to beat my previous record (of 21.69).”
Gamble said he flubbed his one and only flip turn in the 50, but his extreme height advantage helped him recover.
“The trick is: I’m actually really slow, but as soon as I jump in, I’m already halfway there,” said Gamble, who plans on swimming next year at Cuesta College. “Me not touching the wall (on the turn) almost ruined me. I had to compensate as much as I could.”
Gamble and Stevens teamed with Charlie Watkins and David Malouf to win the boys 200 medley relay in a school-record time of 1:37.29.
The foursome of Corryn Haynes, Paige Leonard and freshmen sisters Sarah and Hannah Parson gave the Eagles a sweep in the medley relay, holding off San Luis Obispo to win the girls race in 1:53.60.
Those same four Arroyo Grande girls also won the final event, the 400 freestyle relay, in 3:46.09 to bookend the championship performance from the Eagles girls team.
Watkins went on to win the boys 100 backstroke in 55.52. Gamble, Chris Dichman, Clint Doucette and Hissam El-Effendi blistered through the boys 200 freestyle relay in 1:28.55, breaking the league record set last year by Righetti, which edged the Eagles in 2013 for the PAC 7 title.
This time around, the host team did not let the Warriors — or anyone else — make it close. “It’s not if we’re going to win,” Gamble said following his record-setting 50 freestyle, “it’s by how much.”
In addition to the three varsity records broken Tuesday, San Luis Obispo’s Gaby Penvenne left the impression more will fall next year. The junior won the girls 200 IM in 2:08.38 and the 100 butterfly in 57.41. Her 200 IM was 0.25 seconds off league-best pace and her butterfly was just 0.29 away.
“Well, there’s always room for improvement,” she said after the IM, “but I’m very happy with my swim.”
After a bad first turn had Penvenne trailing rival Casey Keenem of Righetti at the halfway point of the 100 butterfly, she was able to chase down Keenem in the second 50 and narrowly defeat her for the second straight year.
“I really love racing her, because every time it’s just intensity the whole way through,” Penvenne said. “I tried really hard not to think about slipping on that first turn, but it was definitely a fight to the finish.”
Teammates Tyra Popovich and Rio Ericson also took home victories for the Tigers. Popovich won the girls 50 freestyle in 25.18, and Ericson won the 100 breaststroke in 1:11.86. But it was depth that lifted the Eagles.
Senior Corryn Haynes was the lone individual winner for Arroyo Grande, pulling away from the field to win the 100 backstroke in 59.94.
The Atascadero team of Maddie Leone, Madeline Birchfield, Courtney McCarthy and Rachel Donati won the girls 200 freestyle relay in 1:45.87.
While those in the middle lanes won the majority of the races, some unexpected winners emerged as well.
Paso Robles senior Amanda Oliver won the girls 200 freestyle in 1:59.52, despite qualifying with the fourth-fastest time. In the boys event, Righetti’s Lukas Sheckerd got out to a fast start and held off the Bearcats’ Taylor Page down the stretch to win in 1:46.12.
The San Luis Obispo boys took third with 386 points, led by Evan Holtz’s victory in the 500 freestyle in 4:46.71. Paso Robles was fourth with 354, followed by Atascadero (199), St. Joseph (81) and Pioneer Valley (34).
Paso Robles came in third in the girls team race at 411. Atascadero (310), Righetti (294), St. Joseph (137) and Pioneer Valley (56) rounded out the standings.
In the 1-meter diving competition completed Monday at Arroyo Grande, the Eagles’ Lindsay Nichols won the girls event with 352.85 points. San Luis Obispo’s Blake Griffith won the boys event with a score of 448.40.
The CIF-Southern Section swimming and diving championships will be held May 12-17 at the Riverside Aquatics Complex on the campus of Riverside Community College.