It has been almost 17 years since millennium parties and Y2K computer fears, and since then there has been no other Trinity League girls swimming and diving champion other than Santa Margarita Catholic High School.
In 2016, the Eagles also won their third straight CIF-Southern Section Division I title, while in track and field, the Eagles’ girls secured their second straight CIF Division III championship and coach Chuck Morales’ highly celebrated girls soccer team captured the CIF Division I crown.
Based on accumulative team point totals and results, the CIF-Southern Section annually anoints a member school the winner of the prestigious Commissioner’s Cup.
And, for the eighth overall time in the history of the school, and fifth for the girls, the Eagles have landed as No. 1.
Santa Margarita and Loyola, an all-male school, are tied with eight in the all-time Commissioner’s Cup lead. On the girls’ side, Corona del Mar also has five Commissioner’s Cups.
Thanks to CIF championships in aforementioned sports, as well as a third-place finish in golf, the Eagles claimed the 25th Annual Commissioner’s Cup.
In soccer, Santa Margarita’s Natalie Kennedy was named CIF Division I Player of the Year, while Morales was Coach of the Year. Kennedy, Machaela George and Chloe Boile were first-team All-CIF selections in Santa Margarita’s banner campaign, which also included a Southern California Regional Division I title and finishing the season ranked No. 1 in the United States by USA Today and the National Soccer Coaches Association of America.
“This team just set the bar way higher than other teams I’ve coached here at Santa Margarita Catholic in my 23 years,” said Morales, who added that it was business as usual in the summer and preseason with no special indication that the season would lead to a No. 1 national ranking.
“We were fortunate to do well in league and then move into CIF competition,” Morales said. “That is where we caught fire. It was like lightning in a bottle. Our leaders, Natalie Kennedy and Machaela George, pulled the team together for the campaign and the rest is history. I believe this team peaked together not only emotionally, but also competitively at the right time. I have no other explanation for it.”
The Eagles’ swim team edged Woodbridge, 309-271.5, for the top spot in CIF Division I, led by sophomore Samantha Shelton with victories in the 200-yard freestyle (1:45.06) and 100 butterfly (53.72), her first sub-54 second clocking. Freshman teammate Mackenzie Degn was second in the 50 free (22.95) and third in the 100 free (49.91), while contributing to the Eagles’ winning free relay teams.
Santa Margarita sealed its team title with wins in the relays. Degn (23.86), Marriott Hoffmann (23.99), Jeni Griffin (24.70), and Shelton (23.21) went 1:35.76 in the 200 free relay, while Shelton (50.49), Emily Boggess (52.51), Isabela Patino (52.77) and Degn (49.89) cleaned up in the 400 relay, combining for 3:25.66 to win by more than three seconds over Woodbridge (3:28.75).
Brothers Ron and Rich Blanc have been co-head coaches since 1996 and enjoyed tremendous success with the 17 straight league titles.
“But the run we’ve been on the past three years has been fantastic and humbling (with three straight CIF Division 1 team championships),” Ron Blanc said. “This season, no one was expecting our girls team to defend their CIF title. We had graduated a multi-event, Olympic Trials qualifier and national high school record holder in the 100 butterfly in Katie McLaughlin (now swimming for Cal), so the expectations were low. We knew, however, that our team was going to be very talented. Young, but talented. We actually scored more points at CIF this year (309) than in any of our other CIF championship teams. That point total was attributed to the tremendous depth of the team as we had a total of 33 individual and relay swims at the CIF championships.” (In addition to three straight CIF titles, Santa Margarita also won CIF in 2000.)
Among the top athletes for Santa Margarita in track and field: Lauren Drysch in the 200 and 400 meters, Nikki Merritt in the hurdles, Liana Edgar in the high jump, Elizabeth Weeks in the triple jump, Erin Gerardo and Kate Thomas in pole vault and outstanding sprint performances in the 400 and 1,600 relays.
In the last event of the CIF Division III finals, the Eagles needed to score and avoid being shut out in the 1,600 relay in order to clinch the team title. The quartet of Samantha Walsh, Gerardo, Merritt and Drysch locked up the team title and exceeded expectations with a second-place finish in a school-record 3:50.79, cutting nearly four seconds off their previous best.
“I couldn’t be more proud of this collective group of girls,” Eagles sprint coach Sean Zeitler said. “One of the hardest things to do in sports isn’t to win a championship, but to defend your title and that is exactly what they did.”