Endless spring

Big Heart Cats emphasize kindness; girls win league title, boys secure county crown


GOOD VIBES—Newbury Park’s Jacob Garcia talks with head coach Emma Lythgoe after Garcia’s 100-yard breaststroke race on March 24. DAVID PASHAEE/Acorn Newspapers

GOOD VIBES—Newbury Park’s Jacob Garcia talks with head coach Emma Lythgoe after Garcia’s 100-yard breaststroke race on March 24. DAVID PASHAEE/Acorn Newspapers

SWIMMING /// Newbury Park Panthers

Even during a cold and dreary swim season, it always feels like an endless summer—or more aptly, an endless spring—at Newbury Park High.

Emma Lythgoe, who became the Panthers’ head coach four years ago when she was 22 years old, radiates kindness. Every student who wants to swim, regardless of talent or ability, has a spot on the team. And everyone gets better.

Swimmers embrace Lythgoe, who has quickly become one of the most beloved sports figures in Acorn country. Nourished on a steady diet of positive vibes, the Cats—every single one of them— notched personal or school records.

The girls’ squad captured its first Marmonte League championship in more than a decade, since 2013. The boys snared gold at the Ventura County Championships.

Megan Wang is one of the fastest swimmers in California. The freshman shattered the school record in the 100-yard backstroke by almost four seconds at 55.92 seconds. Her best time in the 200 individual medley is 2:11.10. Wang said her coach treats the rookie the same as the other 90 swimmers in the program.

THE RIGHT STUFF—Newbury Park High swimmers cheer for their teammates during a home meet against Agoura in March. The Panthers feature 90 swimmers; head coach Emma Lythgoe does not make cuts. DAVID PASHAEE/Acorn Newspapers

THE RIGHT STUFF—Newbury Park High swimmers cheer for their teammates during a home meet against Agoura in March. The Panthers feature 90 swimmers; head coach Emma Lythgoe does not make cuts. DAVID PASHAEE/Acorn Newspapers

“She cares about you as a person, not just as an athlete,” Wang said. “She cares about everyone. . . . Everyone just looks forward to seeing her every day at the pool.”

Finn Claassen, a junior on the boys’ squad, shared that sentiment.

“Emma creates a good environment on and off the pool deck,” Claassen said. “Everybody wants to be there. Everyone wants to be around her—she makes it fun.”

After years of placing third in league, the girls broke through with a Marmonte crown this spring. Lythgoe expressed her joy with all her swimmers.

“One of the things I was happiest about was seeing kids set individual goals for themselves and really work towards them,” the coach said. “Swimming is one of those unique sports—not only are you racing somebody else, you’re racing the clock and yourself.”

SENIOR—Newbury Park’s Charlotte Sams helped the Panther girls’ team win the Marmonte League title for the first time since 2013. Sams is part of a 200-yard medley relay quartet that owns a school record. MICHAEL COONS/Acorn Newspapers

SENIOR—Newbury Park’s Charlotte Sams helped the Panther girls’ team win the Marmonte League title for the first time since 2013. Sams is part of a 200-yard medley relay quartet that owns a school record. MICHAEL COONS/Acorn Newspapers

Wang, a league champ in the 100 backstroke and 200 IM, qualified for the CIF State Championships this weekend in Clovis in the 100 backstroke.

The rookie is nonplussed by her school record.

“It feels kind of nice,” Wang said. “It doesn’t change much. I’m just focusing on my own self-improvement.”

The Panther said she’s enjoying her first year of high school swimming.

“I really just enjoy hanging out with everyone,” she said. “The environment the team had was really positive. It made everything really fun. That led me to perform my best because I was having a great time. . . . I’m looking forward to next season because I know it will be just as fun as this one.”

Wang, a 4.2 GPA student, enjoys drawing and surfing. Her older sister, Jenny Wang, was a Panther swimmer on Lythgoe’s first team in 2020.

Cassandra Wallop, a senior, qualified for the CIF-Southern Section Division 2 finals in the 200 medley relay with Wang, Charlotte Sams and Caroline Nyborg. The quartet took seventh in the race in 1:50.19, a school record previously set in 2012.

 

 

Wallop excels in the freestyle sprints, establishing PRs in the 50 in 25.5 and the 100 in 58.0. She relished the team’s Marmonte banner.

“For a lot of us, it was our last year. It was really cool to achieve that before we all left,” said Wallop, a league champ in the 50 freestyle. “We all really wanted it for Coach Emma, too. . . .

“I’m going to miss the whole experience in general, being with your friends all the time and being with this specific group of people. I’m definitely going to miss them.”

Wallop, a 3.65 GPA student, starred at sprinter/utility in water polo. She’s entering into her second summer working as an ocean lifeguard at Port Hueneme. The Panther, who enjoys surfing and painting in her free time, plans to study environmental design at Moorpark College.

Lianne King, a junior, is one of the most versatile and hardworking swimmers at Newbury Park. King established PRs in the 100 freestyle (59.8) and 200 freestyle (2:08).

“It’s great to win league after such a long time,” King said. “What makes it extra special is the team environment. Everybody is super welcoming. We all support each other. Our coach plays a really big part in it. You can tell how much she cares about the team and how much she loves the team and how she wants us to do the absolute best we can.”

King, a 4.7 GPA scholar athlete, volunteers at the Westminster Free Clinic, and she’s part of the school’s Science Olympiad team that reached the state tournament. She’s currently knitting a large blanket.

“I’ll probably finish it just in time for a heat wave to hit,” she said with a laugh.

Sams is a senior leader who qualified for CIF in the 100 breaststroke, winning the consolation finals heat last weekend.

“Charlotte is a really fierce competitor,” Lythgoe said. “When she wants to win, she really goes for it.”

Nyborg, a sophomore who moved from Illinois, is a butterfly specialist.

Kenzy Attia, a junior, thrives in the 100 and 200 freestyles.

Marin Cronley, a junior who plays water polo, has taken giant steps in the 500 freestyle, going from 6:19 last year to 5:53 at league finals this spring.

Claassen, one of the top swimmers on the boys’ side, also plays water polo. He set a PR in the 50 freestyle in 22.39 on March 8. He also secured gold in the event at the county meet.

The Panther, who enjoys surfing and going to the gym, hails from a swimming family. Claassen’s mother, Shawn, swam at the University of Miami. His uncle, Michael Covert, swam at Stanford. Claassen, who grew up playing baseball, started swimming in high school.

“As I got into it, I felt like I found out it’s the sport I love and was actually decently good at,” said Claassen, who also contributes in the 100 butterfly, and the 200 freestyle and 200 medley relays. “I think Newbury Park’s a great program for swimming.”

Cameron Habib, a senior, qualified for CIF in the 100 and 200 freestyles. He’s one of the most physically gifted swimmers in the area. Habib, Claassen and seniors Grayson Ing and Jonah Germann own a school record in the 200 freestyle relay in 1:27.7.

“He is just a racer,” the coach said of Habib. “He’s a true competitor.”

Tobey Chow, a senior, is a butterfly specialist.

Zack Bolte, a freshman who also plays football, is a butterfly swimmer to watch.

Duncan McIntosh, a sophomore, improved steadily on his way to qualifying for CIF in the 400 freestyle relay with Habib, Claassen and Ing.

“Over the past four years, not only have the kids grown up, but I’ve gotten to grow up with them,” Lythgoe said. “With my seniors, we’ve been able to grow up together. They’ve helped me put Newbury Park swimming on the map.”

Find sports editor Eliav Appelbaum on Twitter @EliavAppelbaum.