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MacManus Is Real Team Player

She trains with her Irvine High teammates rather than her elite club, still sets record in 100 backstroke.

June 19, 2003|Dan Arritt | Times Staff Writer

Diana MacManus took a break last season from the intense training and elite competition that have occupied much of her adolescence. She chose to dedicate her precious after-school hours to her team at Irvine High, rather than the national powerhouse club to which she owed much of her success.

For MacManus, it was an easy decision, though difficult for some to understand, and it paid off at the Southern Section Division I finals last month, when she proved to herself, and to other high-level swimmers, that it's possible to take a step back before taking two forward.

MacManus, who missed making the 2000 Olympic team in the 100-meter backstroke by two places, swam four personal-best times that night and set a Division I record in the 100-yard backstroke for the third consecutive season.

She was even more thrilled by her second-place finish in the 200 individual medley, an event she had never competed in at the high-school level until a month before the finals.

Add lifetime-best splits on Irvine's 400 freestyle relay team that broke the national public high school record, and on the 200 medley relay team, which just missed breaking its national high school record, and there can be no doubt MacManus deserves to be chosen The Times' girls' swimmer of the year.

"[The season] all came together at once," said MacManus, a junior. "It couldn't have been any better."

Her performance also reinforced her belief that the break from her club team, the Irvine Novaquatics, was a necessary measure, not a damaging one.

"My body told me I needed a break," she said. "I'm not saying I was burned out, it was more like I mentally needed to get myself together."

MacManus switched from gymnastics to swimming at age 10, and four years later was one of the youngest competitors at the 2000 spring nationals, where she placed eighth in the 100-yard backstroke with a time of 1 minute 3.45 seconds. Four months later at the Olympic trials, MacManus was in second place with 10 meters left in the 100 backstroke before finishing fourth.

She returned to the spring nationals as a high school freshman and sophomore, winning the backstroke events in 2002.

However, long before the start of her junior year, MacManus began making plans to take a break from club swimming this spring, which meant missing nationals for the first time in four years.

With a goal of qualifying for the 2004 Olympics, she was concerned that if she didn't take a break this season, she might desperately need one during next year's critical training phase.

At the section finals last month, MacManus posted some times that could be tough to match next season, whether she's rested or not.

She won the backstroke in 54.19, a steady improvement over her division records as a freshman (54.69) and sophomore (54.42). She finished second in the individual medley in 2:03.66.

Her 50.72 split in the 400 freestyle relay was second in the event only to teammate Courtney Cashion, the three-time defending 100 freestyle champion, and MacManus' backstroke split of 25.46 in the medley relay was 0.16 faster than the year before, when Irvine set the national high school record.




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