September 28, 2005 - When it comes to swimming in the southern half of the Grand Canyon State, there's Catalina Foothills High School and the rest.

On Sept. 24 at the University of Arizona's Hillenbrand Aquatics Center, the rest got their shot at taking down Southern Arizona's finest in the 2005 Nike Classic.

Once again, the rest found themselves floating a long distance behind the Falcons.

Combining for a total of 464 points, the Falcons boys and girls teams ran away with the fifth annual swim meet, outswimming the next closest team, Chandler Hamilton High School, by 154 points. Separately, both Foothills squads finished second in their respective field - the girls with 266 points, the boys with 198.

"This has been our fastest meet yet," said Foothills head coach Nicole Sayers, who added that all of her girls had broken their previous meet records.

The win for Foothills was its fifth straight, even though this year's total of 464 points was its lowest showing since it tallied 404 at the 2003 meet. Winning at the Nike Classic is becoming second nature for the Falcons, who are the only team ever to win the five-year-old 44-school event.

With 125 points between its boys and girls squads, Ironwood Ridge High School finished the afternoon eighth overall ahead of Canyon Del Oro High School (39 points, 16th place) and Marana High School (25, 18th).

Records fell in nine of the meet's 22 categories, two of them on the flippers of Foothills' swimmers. Senior Bryan O'Connor set a new mark in the 200-meter individual medley with a time of one minute, 57.71 seconds, while teammate Molly Houlton grabbed her second Nike Classic record with a time of one minute, 53.70 seconds in the women's 200-freestyle. Houlton - who returned to Foothills this year after spending last year training in Southern California - earned her other mark in 2003 in the women's 200-individual medley.

O'Connor also added a win in the 100-backstroke, beating Ironwood Ridge's Brian Anderson by almost two seconds.

Other Foothills winners included Adrian Fitzpatrick, 200 and 500 freestyle. As a team, the boys also added wins in the 200-freestyle relay and the 200-medley relay.

Mountain View High School's Ian Wishnies took third and fourth in the 50-freestyle and 100-butterfly respectively, giving the Mountain Lions a solid contender for the upcoming state meet.

Other Northwest finishers include CDO's Justin Wray, 7th in the 200-individual medley and Nick Scala, 10th in the 200-backstroke. For Ironwood Ridge, Anderson also added a fourth place finish in the 100-freestyle.

On the girls' side, Ellie Doran paced the Falcons taking first in the 200-individual medley and second in the 500-freestyle.

Ironwood Ridge, an early season contender in the Sonoran region, was led by senior Lindsey Miller who placed sixth in the 100-freestyle and seventh in the 50-freestyle.

While Foothills was settling into its old familiar place toward the top of the leader board, a team of novice swimmers to an event of this size was making its big meet debut: Pusch Ridge Christian Academy.

Highlighting the event for the Lions were Dylan Jones, 50-freestyle; Shay Duffin, 100-breastroke; and Josh Spegman, 200-freestyle, who each won their individual heats.

Pusch Ridge, which entered the aquatics center - home of more than 30 past UA Olympians - like a "deer in headlights,” is adjusting well as the new kid on the block, said head coach Julie Allen. The squad won its first meet ever Sept. 22 against St. Gregory and, according to Allen, is "dropping times like crazy."

While boys and girls flip-flopped between events, swimmer and spectators got a chance to take in some of the other amenities the Nike Classic had to offer. With food and clothing tents, music DJ, dunk-tank, prize booths, and shantytown-like tents for swim teams, the outside of the Hillenbrand Aquatics Center resembles more of a carnival or Grateful Dead concert than it does Southern Arizona's largest swim meet.

Swimmers pass the time between events in different fashions. At the CDO tent, located toward the back of the pseudo-village on the UA mall because they got there a little later than most at 7:45 a.m., the swimmers play card games, chat and catch some sleep while waiting for someone to come back and tell them their turn is up.

"Each year, it's gotten a little bigger and a little better," said Roric Fink, head of Tucson Ford. Fink, who puts on the Nike Classic at his home facility at UA, estimates that upward of 1,100 swimmers took to the pool for this year's event. Combine them with roughly 100 coaches and 300 to 400 spectators, and the Nike Classic starts to resemble a party.

"We wanted to make it more than just a swim meet," Fink said.

For Foothills, the win is just another on the road toward competing for a sixth straight state title for both the boys and girls. Next week, the journey will continue with the northern part of the state's version of the Nike Classic, the Brophy-Xavier Invitational.

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