It wasn’t the perfect senior year Young Tae Seo may have dreamed of as an underclassman at Crescenta Valley High.
After seeing stark improvement in each of his first three seasons with the Falcons boys’ swimming team and enjoying what he called “the best high school year ever” as a junior in 2012, there was little opportunity for CV and Seo to top it in 2013.
“I could see why he’s disappointed in the year because of the high expectations he puts upon himself,” Crescenta Valley Coach Jan Sakonju said.
Goals were set at the very top for Seo’s final high school season after the dramatic ending to his junior year.
After placing in the top three in CIF the past two years, Crescenta Valley won the 400-yard freestyle relay by less than half a second over Damien, the runner-up in the meet as well, last year. Seo anchored the final race of the day to secure the program’s first CIF Southern Section title since 2000 in Division II.
The best Seo, who won four CIF and league titles in 2012, could hope for himself and his Falcons was to keep pace and pull off a repeat over newly-favored Los Osos. CV knew it’d be a tough road to another championship after graduating Louis Wojciechowski, but the trek became much more daunting when news came out that Michael Forbes transferred from Damien to Los Osos.
While CV fought valiantly, it came up short in a runner-up finish to Los Osos, 285-234, to secure its fourth top-three and second top-two finish in CIF in Seo’s career. Seo and the Falcons may not have finished on top in 2013, but it’s not to say they didn’t have their share of high points.
“I could have done better, but it was my fault that I didn’t train enough,” Seo said of his season. “I could have done more in training, could have done more in practices and could have been more focused. Everyone says I am a legend, but I think one [individual] championship at CIF isn’t going to make a legend, I think you need more than one.”
Despite not living up to his own expectations, Seo’s accomplishments were unrivaled in the area yet again this year and led to his fourth straight unanimous All-Area Boys’ Swimmer of the Year selection, as voted by the sports writers and editors of the Glendale News-Press, Burbank Leader, La Cañada Valley Sun and Pasadena Sun.
“It’s still surprising every single time,” said fellow Crescenta Valley senior Ryan Assaf of Seo’s accomplishments. “It’s amazing to watch his technique and see how easily he moves through the water. Everyone wanted to be like him. Every race was always amazing and it never really got old.”
Among the highlights this year was CV maintaining its Pacific League dominance to win its 21st consecutive league title and 30th in program history. Seo also replicated his dramatic 400-freestyle relay finish from CIF last year to force a tie with nonleague-rival Hart in a dual meet, 85-85.
Individually, he went on to win four league and two CIF titles — setting three new league and two Division II records in the process — to add to his legend and further cement himself in CV lore.
In his career at Crescenta Valley, Seo racked up 15 league titles, 10 CIF championships and five CIF Masters Meet wins.
“At CV, we always talk about our past because we have such a long standing tradition,” Sakonju said. “You have these names — James Jenkins, Travis Taylor — you have these names that have become legends. The kids don’t even know what they look like and they just become legendary. Young Tae is going to become that guy as well. People will always say, ‘Oh, do you remember when?’
“As a coach, because we do bring up the past, to talk about him as someone to strive for is perfect because he combined natural talent with work ethic and competitive spirit. I’ve always said he’s been the total package.”
Seo’s finest day of the past year came at Pacific League finals. The Naval Academy-bound talent posted victories in the 100 butterfly (49.90 seconds), 200 free (1:40.33), 200-medley (1:35.98) and 400-freestyle relays (3:12.61) that day. His three records came in the 200-medley, fly and 100 free after he swam a 46.78 leadoff leg in the 400-free relay.
Harrison Thai and Edward Yi swam both winning relays with Seo, while Eric Park and Jacob Ksendzov took part in the 400 and 200 medley, respectively.
Seo’s historic day left him in possession of seven of the league standards. He also owns the 500 free (4:30.61, 2011), 100 breaststroke (58.19, 2011), 200- (1:26.19, 2011) and 400-free relay records (3:10.06, 2012) from previous years.
“That was the goal for league and my senior year, try to break the other records so I could have more than any other people,” said Seo, who originally committed to the University of Florida before switching to the Naval Academy in April. “I am really honored to hold more than half of the records.”
At CIF, Seo was a part of setting two Division II records. First, he updated his 2011 200-individual medley record with a time of 1:47.80 after besting another Falcons standard in the 200-medley relay with Thai, Yi and Ksendzov.
What Seo counts as blemishes on his season — runner-up finishes in the 100 breaststroke (55.25), 400-freestyle relay (3:08.95) and overall — would be additional achievements for most swimmers.
It’s the breaststroke that haunts Seo most. He was out touched by .12 of a second by top-seeded Zachary Stevens (55.13) of Arroyo Grande. Pouring salt in the wound, Stevens also bested Seo’s CIF record in the breast from 2011 (55.81).
“He took it really hard on himself, he was obviously very disappointed in losing,” said Thai, who owns five league records of his own. “I told him, ‘You know, you swam as fast as you could and did everything you could.’ There was really nothing else he could do. It was a team effort and we came up short.”
While Sakonju also felt for Seo, the loss became another reminder of his greatness in the pool.
“People weren’t saying, ‘[Stevens] broke the record,’ it was, ‘Oh, he beat Young Tae.’ All the photographers were photographing him,” Sakonju said. “I think if anything it reflects his high school career and the legacy he leaves behind.”
Heartache continued in the 400-free relay. Los Osos not only won the race but bested Seo, Thai, Yi and Wojciechowski’s 400-free record from 2012 (3:05.50) with a time of 3:04.14.
Seo, Yi, Park and Thai — the Falcons 400-free relay team — stayed in the pool after the race and huddled together, clearly emotional with the ending to the 2013 season.
Seo told his sophomore teammates Yi and Park to continue the Crescenta Valley tradition and swim fast. Thai urged Seo to remember the good times.
“’There’s no shame in losing if you put everything out there on the table,’” said Thai of what he told Seo. “I told him, ‘Let’s not dwell on how we lost, but on how we had a great run and how we had a great time in the years we’ve been together.’”
After all, the good memories Seo’s left behind for his teammates are almost innumerable. Sakonju seemed to have one after another to share and, looking back, he wishes he would have carried a video recorder around with him in 2013.
With Seo taking off from Crescenta Valley, Sakonju wishes he had more film of Seo, who he refers to as the “best swimmer he’s ever coached,” and his accomplishments.
“It was one of those moments in life where you’re like, I should have paid extra attention or I should have filmed this so I have it on tape,” Sakonju said, “because in my career I don’t think I’ll ever see that again — somebody like him.”Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun