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Swimming and diving: Topper girls place second at state championship meet

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By Mike Cote

ALBUQUERQUE — A very good point total for the Los Alamos Hilltopper girls swim team wasn’t quite good enough Saturday.

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Los Alamos finished with 268 points at the 2009-10 state swimming championship meet Saturday, a solid score but not enough to overcome the top swimming program in state history.

The Albuquerque Academy Chargers won both the boys and girls team titles at this weekend’s state title meet. The Charger girls racked up 334.5 points to take their fifth title in six years, while the Charger boys earned their fifth straight team title, holding off a big push from the runner-up Eldorado Eagles, 288 points to 253 points. The Charger boys earned 427 points at last year’s state title meet.

Los Alamos’ boys finished fourth in the meet, which started Friday and concluded Saturday afternoon, earning 216 points, putting them just 3.5 points out of a top three finish.

On the day, the Hilltoppers grabbed a pair of individual state championships and a runner-up spot.

Alex Baker, Los Alamos’ top boys swimmer throughout the season, came back from nearly a full second down halfway through the 100-yard butterfly to earn a state title in the event with his time of 53.06.

In the girls 100 breaststroke, Victoria Maqueda upset Academy’s Tess Lemon to win the state title in the 100 breaststroke. Maqueda, a senior, led the event virtually from the get-go and beat out a comeback attempt by Lemon in the final 15 meters to win.

Maqueda, a senior, posted a time of 1:06.54 to take the individual state title.

The Chargers, meanwhile, earned just two wins on the day in the girls competition, but both of those were relay events, which count for 40 points in team standings.

Meanwhile, the Charger boys team, which more often than not dominates the meet, needed two big diving performances by Kyle Lang and Niko Dellios, who finished 1-2 in the event, to hold off Eldorado for the team title.

Baker, one of just two seniors on Los Alamos’ roster, started his day with a third-place finish in the 200-yard individual medley, a race in which teammate Micah Putnam finished seventh.

Baker was actually in second place for the middle two disciplines of the race. In the freestyle leg, however he was overtaken in the last 15 yards by St. Michael’s Drew Fant, who edged Baker out by just .3 seconds.

But Baker made his presence felt with a furious final 50 yards in the 100 butterfly.

“The person I wanted to upset was Gabriel (Pleil-Pino of St. Pius),” Baker said. “In the preliminaries, he had 24 seconds out and 29 back. I knew if I could hold on that first 50, I could beat him in the last 50.”

Pleil-Pino, who was the top butterfly finisher after Friday’s preliminary swim, only managed a fourth-place finish in Saturday’s final, although only .59 seconds separated the top four swimmers in the event.

Baker’s swim was a career-best in the event, which is his specialty. He dropped approximately half a second over his previous best time in the butterfly.

“It feels great,” he said. “It’s nice that not only am I doing well, but that the whole team wants to get first. They’re putting their heart and soul into these races.”

Barich-Mooday finished fourth in the girls 50 freestyle and second in the 500 freestyle. She posted a 50 time of 24.57, a slight improvement over her finish a day earlier in the preliminary race.

“I thought it was a good race,” she said. “(Coach) Rusty (Bernstein) was cheering. That helped me finish.”

Barich-Mooday, a freshman is one of the most promising young swimmers Los Alamos has on its girls team. She took fourth place at state in the 200 freestyle a year ago as an eighth-grader.

To open the day, the Hilltopper girls 200 medley relay team of Yuliya Matlashova, Maqueda, Natalia Moore and Maggie Schappell took third place, earning a 1:53.67.

In the state diving competition, Josh Wilcox finished 18th in the boys competition, picking up 119.0 points.

In the girls diving event, Erin Dinehart was Los Alamos’ top finisher, placing ninth overall, just one spot ahead of teammate Amy Neal. Manzano’s Courtney Brooks won the state title comfortably.

More information on the state championship meet will appear later this week in the Monitor.