Just like the dynasty he has overseen for a decade, Rick Ernstrom was slow to leave the water Wednesday.
Ernstrom, the head coach of the San Luis Obispo High boys swimming team since 1971, had just led his Tigers to another PAC 7 championship, and had been dragged into the pool at Arroyo Grande High in celebration by his swimmers. For San Luis Obispo and Ernstrom — who calmly waded about, smiling, rather than rushing to climb out — it was the 10th league title in a row.
This time, the Tigers will technically share the crown with Righetti, which won a dual 145-141 between the two April 23, and finished with as many points accrued over the course of the season as a whole. But it was San Luis Obispo that raced to an outright first place at the league finals, totaling 596 points, with Righetti (484.5) and Arroyo Grande (482.5) second and third, respectively.
“The kids swam with a purpose,” Ernstrom said. “I couldn’t be any happier.
“This is a different team than the one that started the streak,” he added. “For them, it’s three years in a row, four years in a row.”
Atascadero finished fourth on the boys side at 197, followed by Paso Robles (167), Nipomo (90) and Pioneer Valley (81).
San Luis Obispo had just one time that qualified automatically for CIF-Southern Section Division II competition, as Alan Peterson won the 500-yard freestyle in a league-record 4 minutes, 48.8 seconds. But depth carried the Tigers, as nine swimmers, including relays, combined to rack up 12 times that will earn consideration for divisional competition.
“It’s hard work,” Ernstrom said in explaining the longevity of the Tigers’ success. “And the kids recruit their friends, and they build on that (success). When you have something going well, people want to be a part of it.”
Those who put up consideration-level times will learn their postseason outlooks when the field is announced this weekend, with the next level of competition to open with prelims May 14 and conclude with finals May 15 at the Belmont Plaza Olympic Pool in Long Beach.
On the girls side, Arroyo Grande finished first with 593 points, claiming its fifth straight league championship. San Luis Obispo finished second at 452, followed by Righetti (418), Atascadero (281), Paso Robles (139), Nipomo (102) and Pioneer Valley (86).
“I can’t think of any bad swims,” Arroyo Grande girls coach Claudia Souder said. “Everyone was either setting their personal best or was right on their best.”
Amelia Schachter led the Eagles, posting divisional-automatic times in winning the 100 butterfly in 57.02 seconds and the 100 breaststroke in 1:05.21. Both times were league records. She also swam a leg for the Eagles’ automatically qualifying relay foursomes in the 200 medley (at 1:54.58) and 400 freestyle (a league-record 3:40.97).
A third Arroyo Grande quartet also posted an automatically qualifying time, as Kelly O’Sullivan, Katie Sverchek, Kim Johnson and Melanie Johnson raced to a league-record 1:42.73 in the 200 freestyle relay. San Luis Obispo’s Kim Bellis, Jesse Magliari, Rachel Hure and Teagan Griffith also qualified in the same event at a runner-up 1:44.8.
Nipomo’s Rebekah Corbin put forth one of the most impressive individual displays, clocking automatically advancing times by winning the 200 freestyle in 1:54.37 and placing second in the 100 butterfly at 58.79 seconds. Atascadero’s Hannah Bratton also collected an automatic placing, finishing second in the 100 backstroke in 1:01.51.
Meanwhile, Atascadero’s Patrick Neil had perhaps the most noteworthy day as an individual for the boys, with two automatically advancing times. He won the 200 individual medley in a PAC 7-record 1:57.87 and touched the wall first in the 100 backstroke in 52.62 seconds, also a league record. The latter performance was enough to eclipse another automatic clocking in the same event, second-place Zachary Toomay’s 55.31-second showing. Along with teammates Ian Dunn, Mason Ancona and Kenan Marting, Toomay accounted for a fourth of the Eagles’ automatically advancing 200 medley relay squad, which finished in a league-record 1:40.9.