By Dan Arritt     4/5/2017

The Santa Margarita girls’ swim team wasn’t expected to win a third consecutive CIF-Southern Section Division I title last season. Not after the 2015 graduation of Katie McLaughlin, who established three Orange County records, set seven school marks and led the Eagles to a section title during the spring of her senior year.

But those who predicted Santa Margarita would fall back in line with Orange County’s other top swim programs after McLaughlin graduated were in for a surprise. The Eagles easily defended their Division I title last May behind stellar performances from Samantha Shelton, Isabelle Odgers and Mackenzie Degn.

Nobody’s predicting Santa Margarita will be average this season, not with Shelton, Odgers and Degn all back again this season.

Shelton was the O.C. Register Girls Swimmer of the Year last season, capturing section titles in the 200-yard freestyle, 100 butterfly and anchoring the winning 200 and 400 freestyle relays.

Her time of 1 minute, 45.06 seconds in the 200 freestyle was the second-fastest in Orange County history behind McLaughlin’s time of 1:43.01 in 2015. She won the butterfly in 53.72, becoming just the sixth girl from Orange County to finish the event in under 54 seconds.

“She’s gone from a somewhat shy student to being voted as a team captain for her junior year,” Santa Margarita coach Ron Blanc to the OC Catholic News last summer. “We are excited to think about how fast Samantha will swim at the end of the high school season, and she will be a leader in our attempt to win our school’s fourth consecutive CIF Swimming Championship.”

Shelton is already off to a fast start, anchoring three winning relays March 11 at the Capistrano Valley swim relays.

Shelton will have plenty of teammates to root for again this season.

Odgers returns for her junior year after winning Trinity League titles in the 200 individual medley and 100 breaststroke, and Degn is back to defend her league titles in the 50 and 100 freestyles.

All four members of the 200 freestyle relay team that won a section title are back this season, as well as three of the four members from the winning 400 freestyle relay.

The Eagles have also been bolstered by the addition of several talented freshmen, including Ella Ristic and Anicka Delgado.

“We have so many fast freshmen this year, it’s insane,” Shelton told the O.C. Register at the Capistrano Valley swim relays. “Our goal this year is to break the national record in the [400 freestyle], so we’re shooting for that. Since we did so well [last] year, we’re always building off that and the excitement we got from CIF.”

Santa Margarita probably won’t dominate every event in the Trinity League.

Mater Dei sophomore Stephanie Su is the defending champion in the 200 and 500 freestyles, though Shelton could certainly challenge should she choose to compete in those events.

On the boys’ side, Santa Margarita returns two defending league champions.

Alexander Qu won the 100 butterfly and 100 breaststroke and teammate Kevin Tu took first in the 100 backstroke and was second in the 200 individual medley.

The top sprinter in the Trinity League last season, Christian Hockenbury of Mater Dei, also returns for his senior year. He won a league title in the 50 freestyle last season and finished second in the 100 freestyle.

The Trinity League finals are scheduled for May 5 at JSerra High School.