Rhee, Mavericks look to make mark in post-season swimming action

LCC Junior Rachel Rhee
Ken Grosse

Since the La Costa Canyon swimming and diving program began in 1997, both the boys and girls teams have been perennial top five finishers in CIF Championship competition most recently placing third (girls) and fifth (boys) at the Division II meet in 2017. Despite being in the hunt virtually every year, the Mavericks have never been able to reach the top rung in either gender. It looked like 2018 might be the year for the La Costa girls team to break through.

With swimming and diving divided strictly along enrollment lines, LCC will again be in the Division II Championship competition, slated for May 10 (prelims) and 12 (finals) at Granite Hills High School. Eighth-year Head Coach Patty Mackle returns swimmers who are defending section champions in four events on the girls’ side.

Rachel Rhee
Rachel Rhee Ken Grosse

“There are 22 total events to contest between the girls and boys and I’m hoping we can win 10, maybe even 11 of them,” says Mackle. “We’ll have swimmers right there as favorites in four individual girls’ races and a great shot at one relay.”

Even with that type of firepower, the Mavericks’ chances of snagging that elusive championship trophy are long, according to Mackle, citing two big obstacles in their way.

“Depth and diving,” she said. “We have 10 girls who could score at CIF. We probably need one or two more and we don’t have any divers.” Ironically, there are two divers enrolled at LCC who are participating in another sport. With a total of 155 points being distributed in each of 11 events, having no opportunity to score in even one is a major hurdle.

Juniors Rachel Rhee (50 and 200 freestyle) and Tegan Preston (200 individual medley and 100 breaststroke) are the Mavericks’ defending champions. Fellow juniors Bella Bram, Erin Taggart and sophomores Natalie Wilson, Sarah Baker, Jane Wegener and Emily Broberg were point scorers a year ago when LCC’s 267 points left them behind first place Cathedral Catholic (336) and Mt. Carmel (329). Freshman Noelle Harvey is a new face who could be a factor.

“Our goal was to have the girls right there battling Cathedral for the championship,” Mackle said. “That’s going to be pretty tough without divers, but you never know. If we have some swimmers step up big, it could happen. The relays (which count for double points) will be huge. We have a shot to not only win but maybe get the Division II record in the 200 medley relay and we made the finals in both freestyle relays last year.”

One week prior to the CIF meet, the Mavericks will have their final tune-up when they take on D1 powers Torrey Pines, Carlsbad and Canyon Crest in the six-team Avocado West League Championships at the Rancho San Dieguito Boys & Girls Club in Solana Beach.

“It’s good preparation for CIF but the league meet is important on its own,” said Mackle. “The Avocado West is the best league in San Diego so there are definitely bragging rights with winning the league. Also, we don’t get to face Torrey Pines, Carlsbad or Canyon Crest (1-2-3 last year in Division I) in CIF so this is an opportunity.”

The 5-foot-10 Rhee, swimming in her two specialties as well as two relays, figures to be one of the standouts at both the league and section meets. She won both the 50 and 200 freestyles as a freshman, meaning she will be gunning to make it three straight in those two races.

“Rachel is very disciplined, meticulous and dedicated,” said Mackle. “She’s a good listener and puts directions into action. She’s also very well-rounded and could probably be our best swimmer in several other events if she swam them.” The school record holder in both of her primary events, clocking 23.19 (50) and 1:48.12 (200) respectively, Rhee spent time recently with the Encinitas Advocate and talked about her favorite events as well as how golf and Michael Phelps played a role in her swimming career.

Q—In a race like the 50 freestyle that is so short, where the top finishers are sometimes separated by hundredths of seconds, what gives you an edge?

RHEE—The 50 free is mostly about swimming your heart out. You know you have to go—there is no hesitating, no thinking, just racing. The difference could be determined by many things. Some of those are one’s training, the start, putting together a perfect race or just who wants it most.

Q—What makes up a ‘perfect’ race in the 50?

RHEE—To start, you’ve got to get the dive right and be fast off the blocks. The turn is crucial. You can’t go slow into the turn and it’s almost impossible to catch up if you don’t get the turn right.

Most times, we don’t remember exactly what we’re doing. What we do in training is treat every single practice like a race. Make sure our stroke count is down, make sure we have the right number of strokes from the flags to the wall. Every day is like a dress rehearsal so at the meet you are able to just get on the blocks and go.

Q—Which of your two races are you best at and which is your favorite?

RHEE—The 200 freestyle is both my best and favorite event. It’s more technical and strategic than the 50 and it’s the race I’m ranked highest in. It’s one of the distances we constantly swim in practice so I know just how to break it down, swim each lap and breathe. I know exactly what I’m going to do which fits me perfectly.

Q—When did you first start swimming and what type of memories do you have of those early days?

RHEE—My mother says I jumped into the water at ‘three or something.’ In the summer of 2009, I started with lessons and the first thing I remember is that I always wanted to get to try to get to the wall first—even if it wasn’t a race, I just wanted to get there first.

Back then, I just wanted to swim. My first lessons were at the Ecke YMCA and within a week my instructor decided that I had to move up to the next level. That kind of kept happening and pretty soon I was on a team, non-competitive at first and then competitive—because I had to get to the wall first.

My first competition, in early 2010, I remember my coach was so proud of me for not getting disqualified. Young swimmers tend to get DQ’d a lot for false starting, improper turns and other things.

Q—Why do you enjoy swimming?

RHEE—I can’t imagine my life without swimming—it’s something I can’t do without. I’m always looking forward to it, even practice—both at La Costa Canyon and with my club team Rancho San Dieguito.

It’s always great to see my teammates, they’re like a second family. We’ve all been through the same thing, the same pain, seen each other rise and fall. It’s tough, and we always ask ourselves ‘why?’ but going through it together is honestly what makes it fun, even when we’re trying to beat each other.

There are always unexpected things, but one of the aspects I like most is the routine that goes along with it. So many other sports you’re working on all sorts of different plays and strategies. In swimming your working on perfecting one thing.

Q—What was the hardest thing about swimming for you to master?

RHEE—Oh, I don’t know. I’m still having trouble trying to master butterfly. That’s good, I guess, because that means I’m not done getting better.

I was the same as anyone else. I think everyone has a hard time trying to breathe correctly or going off the blocks for the first time.

Q—What is a typical training schedule for you?

RHEE—Most of the top swimmers train with their club teams and only compete with their high school teams. During the school year, we train from 3 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, from 7:30 to 10 a.m. Saturday and from 5:15 to 6:30 p.m. on Tuesdays and Fridays.

High school is more fun than club because you get a chance to compete with your classmates. You practice every day with your club teammates but you often competing more against each other. I feel like the high school team can be working hard but still be super goofy, more relaxed with each other. I like the fact that you are supporting each other and cheering on your teammates.

Q—With its focus on individual performance, do you consider swimming a team sport?

RHEE—Most definitely, ‘yes’ and not just because of the points and scoring. If someone on your team wins an event right before you swim, it inspires you and gets you pumped up—and you can hear them cheering from the deck when you’re competing which is motivating.

When I hear them, it makes me want to be sure that I make their cheering worthwhile.

Q—Are you looking forward to league and CIF? What are your expectations?

RHEE—League and CIF are really important to me. It’s special to see teammates and friends succeed, whether that means scoring at league, qualifying for CIF or winning a championship. It’s a rush and fun.

For myself, I don’t really know yet. I hope to get my best times and the teams I’m on win both relays. I’d also like to see our guys medley relay team win as well.

Q—In the 50 freestyle at the Avocado West meet, you’ll be up against defending CIF Division I winner Kira Crage of Torrey Pines, one of your club teammates. Are you looking forward to that?

RHEE—She’s an excellent swimmer, super laid back and we’re friends. I think we see each other as equals but not necessarily rivals. I’m going in thinking I’m going to beat her and she would probably say the same thing.

Q—People often say swimmers are not very good at land sports. Is there a land sport you think you might be pretty good at? Which one would be the most difficult?

RHEE—I gave up on land sports on long time ago. The reason I’m swimming is because I didn’t want to play golf. My dad got into golf and my older brother, Alex (now playing at Palomar College), is really good. My dad thought I could be good.

Well, standing outside in the sun for eight hours doing the same thing over and over is not for me. At least in swimming, I’m cooling off while I’m working out. When you’re golfing, you’re not even allowed to talk at all.

Softball would probably be the worst. I might tumble over my own feet. I could see myself swinging a bat hard and accidentally letting it go and giving someone a concussion (at six, in her golfing days, Rhee actually hit her father in the head with a backswing).

Q—What has been your favorite class at LCC?

RHEE—Art, with Ms. O’Neill. I like the creativity, the freeness and the broad range of it.

I also do a lot of art at home by myself. I draw a lot, cartoons and animated people, friends and some that I just make up. My friends tell me they like them.

Q—Is there any swimmer that you’ve admired or model yourself after?

RHEE—I admire Michael Phelps. Everyone knows and likes him but he’s actually the reason why I started swimming. Going back to the golf thing, I was at a snack bar at one of my brother’s tournaments and they had a TV on. It was during the Summer Olympics, Beijing I think, and they were showing the 100 butterfly. Phelps won the race and it looked super fun and right then I knew it was something I wanted to do.