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Swimming and diving: LA girls win home opener Saturday

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By Mike Cote

Even some pre-race shuffling prior to Saturday’s 400-yard freestyle relay couldn’t stop the Los Alamos Hilltopper swim teams from picking up six state championship qualifying marks.

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Prior to the relay, the final event of the day, every Los Alamos team was petitioning co-head coach Rusty Bernstein to alter the swimming order. Bernstein acquiesced.

In the end at the Los Alamos Open, everything turned out just fine.

Both the Hilltopper boys and girls squads had solid showings for their first time in a qualifying event this season. In the team standings, the Hilltopper girls ran away from the competition by collecting 625 points.

The Los Alamos boys, meanwhile, finished second behind a very tough Rio Rancho squad, which finished as the runner-up in the state championship meet last season. Rio Rancho won with 445 points, while Los Alamos finished with 395.5 points.

Along the way Saturday, Los Alamos picked up numerous state meet qualifying marks on both sides. In addition to the six relay cuts, Los Alamos picked up at least one qualifier in all but three events.

“We’re doing pretty good,” Hilltopper Christopher “Ace” Ventura said. “We’ve got a lot of people making their state cuts. It’s really good. We’ve got strong guys and strong girls.”

Ventura, one of the Hillltopper boys’ team captains this season, had a good outing himself, picking up a win and a state qualifying mark in the 500 freestyle and a state ticket and a second place finish in the 200 freestyle. His time of 1:54.11 in the 200 freestyle not only placed him within .03 seconds of Rio Rancho’s Jake Pyeatt Saturday, it was also a career best for him in that event.

Los Alamos entered one of its stronger lineups into Saturday’s meet to knock out as many state marks as it could early in the season.

For the Hilltopper girls, their first two individual placers were both eighth-graders. Ashlynn Bennett and Kerry Song, two swimmers that Bernstein said were ready to make solid contributions to the team this season, will head to state in the 200 freestyle and the 200 individual medley.

“Their times for the 200 free and 200 IM, even if they didn’t get any better, they’ll be in the top 16 at state meet,” Bernstein said.

Also on the girls side Saturday, Victoria Maqueda, a senior, finished third in the 50 freestyle and won the 100 breaststroke for the Hilltoppers.

Maqueda, who had a less-than-ideal week of preparation due to shoulder fatigue, led the breaststroke virtually from wire-to-wire, despite Piedra Vista’s Tasha Moffitt staying very close to the pace the entire way. Maqueda finished with a very respectable 1:10.61, although that only afforded her a .38-second win over Moffitt.

“It was good,” Maqueda said of her victory. “At that point, you have to swim as an individual in the race. You have to go for time, not place.”

Maqueda said in this, her senior year, she’s hoping to break Los Alamos High School’s breaststroke record.

Newcomer Yuta Suzuki, won the boys 200 IM, upsetting a solid IMer from Rio Rancho, Tyler Romero, by nearly a full second. Alex Baker, Los Alamos’ top returning senior, won both the 100 butterfly and the 100 backstroke to help lead the Hilltopper effort.

Yulia Matlashova was the winner in the girls 100 backstroke for Los Alamos, while Natalia Moore took the top individual finish in the 100 butterfly.

Los Alamos thinks its early season results bode will for a big showing at the state meet in February.

“As of right now, we have a good chance at a top three finish for both the boys and girls,” Maqueda said.

Rio Rancho finished second in the girls team event with 402 points Saturday. Cleveland, a new school in Rio Rancho, finished a distant third with 242 points.

In the boys team competition, St. Michael’s had a strong showing, finishing third with 328.5 points.