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High-Water Marks : Despite Personal Best Times, Bell's Salcedo Is Striving for Loftier Goals

April 04, 1993|PAUL GOLDBERG | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Last May, Bell High star swimmer Helen Salcedo finished second to Granada Hills' Kristine Quance in the 200-yard individual medley and the 100-yard breaststroke at the City finals in Long Beach.

Friends and relatives tried to console Salcedo after the breaststroke, her specialty, pointing to 1993 as the year she would finally beat Quance. But after checking the digital times above the Belmont Plaza pool and noticing she finished in 1:05.96, Salcedo wasn't looking for sympathy.

"I did my best-ever time and people are telling me, 'It's OK. You have next year,' " Salcedo said, "It was really frustrating. I finally broke my time and people had me bummed out."

Salcedo, like all top high school swimmers, had bigger goals than the City title. Her main goals lie in the junior and senior nationals, which both hold a meet in the spring and summer.

Last summer, Salcedo set a personal best in the 200-meter breaststroke at the junior nationals in Pasadena, where she finished second in 2:36.

Soon after, she swam another personal best, this time in the 100-meter breaststroke at the senior nationals in Mission Viejo, where she recorded a time of 1:13.

Salcedo's 200-meter time was the 24th best in the country in 1992 and her 100-meter time was 28th. Saturday and today, Salcedo competed in the U.S. Swimming National Championships in Nashville, Tenn.

Along with her three brothers, Salcedo was brought up in family where swimming was the rule, unlike the situation at most Eastern/Northern and Southern league schools.

But outside the Salcedo house, in the Southeast area where the main sports are soccer, football and basketball, Salcedo is an anomaly.

She is the only returning City champion in any of the aforementioned leagues, and though there are other bright spots on other teams, like Fremont free-styler Bryan Barrett (who also competed at the junior nationals) and Roosevelt's Luis Loya (last year's frosh-soph city champ in the 50-meter butterfly) they are few in number.

The City swimming titles, both individual and team, are traditionally dominated Palisades, Venice and San Pedro, whose programs have more funding.

Of the three, only Venice has its own pool, but the three schools benefit from swimmers who also belong to private United States Swimming club teams, of which there are few in Salcedo's part of town. Any swimmer who pays a membership fee can join a club team and compete according to his or her level.

Salcedo has been competing for a U.S.S. team in Bellflower for four of the past five years. Through the club, she is able to get year-round training and instruction.

And for Salcedo, year-round includes Bell's swim season.

In the past, Salcedo's coaches at Bell let her practice with her club team in Bellflower during the season, which Salcedo said created some awkwardness around teammates when she showed up for meets.

But, as she said, "you get through it," and Salcedo led Bell's girls' team to fifth place in the team competition in last season's City finals.

Bell is the only team from the Southeast area, in recent history, that has challenged Palisades, San Pedro and Venice, teams with many swimmers in private year-round programs.

There are a few U.S.S. swim teams in the area, like the one at Roosevelt High, but they offer only novice-level competition and do not come close to providing the core of talent found at Palisades, for instance.

Bell's boys' swimming coach, Casey Thompson, attributes the school's success to sheer dedication to practice.

But Salcedo sees the potential for more.

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"All of the people on this team who are good and from this area started when they were young," she said. "There are good swimmers but all they have is the high school practice. It's good, but it's not year-round. They could really improve at a good program."

Coaches at other schools, who have enough trouble competing with Bell, let alone Palisades, acknowledge that there aren't that many polished swimmers in the area.

"I have kids who come in without any knowledge of how to swim," said Huntington Park Coach Mike French, who gets many of his swimmers by plugging the team in his academic classes. "Top schools get them fine-tuned. We teach almost everyone from scratch, teaching the basics for competition.

"They (his swimmers) don't have other park programs around them, and if there are, they don't know about them. It's pretty much (that way) through our whole league."

French, who said he has only one swimmer competing year-round, said he can only conceive of competing with the top schools if swimming programs started reaching youths much earlier than high school.

"I think we'd have to have people who were really much more trained and ready to start working," he said, "instead of learning the basics."

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Until that happens, swimmers like Salcedo, who started swimming competitively when she was 6, will remain the exception in the area.

Salcedo, a Division I prospect, said she has narrowed her college choices to UC Berkeley, Colorado State, UNLV and USC.

She is in no hurry to get there, however. There is still the matter of facing Quance one more time in the City finals in May.

"It's definitely something I think about," Salcedo said, adding she thinks she has closed to within a second of Quance. "I've got so much better this past summer. I'm not just going to lose. But I don't get down about it. I'd rather lose to her than anyone else."

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