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THE TIMES' GIRLS' SWIMMER OF THE YEAR

Wilson's Hardy Is on Fast Track

June 23, 2005|Lauren Peterson | Times Staff Writer

Spurred by a thunderous roar that resounded more loudly across the pool deck with each push and pull through the water, Jessica Hardy moved ever closer to the wall and an elusive goal.

"I was hoping to leave a mark," said Hardy, a Long Beach Wilson swimmer competing in the 100-yard breaststroke at the Southern Section Division I championships. "Hoping to do something to have people remember."

Mission accomplished. Hardy finished in 59.20 seconds -- nearly six seconds faster than her closest competitor -- to become the first high school girl to finish the race in less than a minute.

As she caught her breath, Hardy smiled and spread her arms wide over the water, acknowledging both her accomplishment and the standing ovation from a crowd of 2,500 that echoed last month through cavernous Belmont Plaza in Long Beach.

"It's amazing," she said. "It's definitely right up there with anything else I've done."

Hardy's feat ended a year-long personal quest to swim a sub-minute race and has helped her to be selected The Times' girls' swimmer of the year for the second consecutive year.

Hardy, the fourth-ranked women's 100-meter breaststroke swimmer in the world, had been gunning for a sub-minute short-course yardage time ever since she set her previous national high school record by winning the 2004 Division I final in 1:00.41.

When she finally crossed the threshold, few were surprised.

"She seems to be able to take the information that you provide her, and she goes out and does it," said Dave Salo, her club coach with the Irvine Novaquatics.

Hardy also swam the breaststroke leg on Long Beach Wilson's 200-medley relay team that won the Division I title in 1:43.84 and came close to breaking the national record of 1:43.71 set by Irvine in 2002.

In addition, she won the 200 individual medley for the second year in a row with a time of 2:01.68 and anchored Wilson's 400-freestyle relay team that placed second in 3:32.39, helping Wilson clinch the Division I team championship, the Bruins' first title since they won Division II in 1995.

Hardy, who will compete at California next season, enjoyed a breakthrough year in 2004 that continued into the recently completed high school season. Ranked No. 97 in the world in the 100-meter breaststroke in 2003 with a time of 1:11.33, she improved to eighth at 1:09.49 in 2004, and went 1:08.29 for a fifth-place finish at the U.S. Olympic trials last summer.

Although she missed the cut for the Athens Olympics, Hardy did qualify for the 2005 World Championships to be held July 24-31 in Montreal after going 1:07.83 at the trials in April, ranking her fourth in the world.

"People are going to be amazed at what she's going to do," Wilson Coach Maggi Twinem said. "She's going to set the world on fire. What she's done is only the beginning."

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

THE TIMES' ALL-STAR GIRLS' SWIM TEAM

FIRST TEAM

Jessie Perazzo, Yucaipa; Jr.; 50 and 100 freestyle

Won Southern Section Division I title in 50-yard freestyle in 23.18 seconds and 100 freestyle in 50.42 to join swimmer of the year Jessica Hardy as a double winner.

Rachel Grant, Walnut; So.; 200 freestyle

Took Division II championship in 1:48.38, the fastest time among swimmers in all divisions in one of the deepest events.

Sara Sun, Crescenta Valley; So.; 500 freestyle

Won Division I title in 4:50.85 after a disappointing second-place finish in 2004. She also finished second in 200 free.

Rachel Rys, Dos Pueblos; Jr.; 100 butterfly

Won Division I title in 55.43, improving on her second-place finish of 55.55 last season.

Lara Pease, Long Beach Wilson; Sr.; 100 backstroke

Transfer from Anaheim Canyon won Division I title in 56.34 and helped Bruins win the 200-medley relay.

Jessica Hardy, Long Beach Wilson; Sr.; 100 breaststroke

Swimmer of the year broke her national record by winning Division I title in 59.20 to become the first high school girl to swim the race in less than one minute.

Lyndsay De Paul, Villa Park; Jr.; 200 individual medley

Southland's most versatile swimmer posted automatic All-American times in five events and received All-American consideration in three more.

Long Beach Wilson; ; 200 medley relay

(Lara Pease, Sr.; Jessica Hardy, Sr.; Elise Etem, So.; Michelle Caswell, Sr.) Won Division I race in 1:43.84, nearly five seconds faster than any team in any division.

Harvard-Westlake; ; 200 freestyle relay

(Katie Wong, Jr.; Bridget Ballard, Jr.; Tracey Crothers, Sr.; Alexa Merz, Sr.) Core contributors won Division I race in 1:38.23 and helped Wolverines to a fourth-place finish in team standings.

Irvine; ; 400 freestyle relay

(Felicia Leksono, Fr.; Jenna Natalizio, Jr.; Brooke Cashion, Jr.; Jane Hwang, Sr.) Won Division I race in 3:31.50 and helped Vaqueros to a third-place finish in team standings. Irvine's run of eight consecutive titles was ended by Long Beach Wilson.

Marisa Samaniego, Flintridge Sacred Heart; Sr.; 1-meter diving

After finishing fifth as a sophomore and second as a junior, she won the Division I title and will dive for UCLA next season.

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