STATE MEET: Panthers relay shakeup leads way to title

Palo Verde boys swimming coach Bob Nicholson knew the Panthers were favored to win one relay in the state meet Saturday at UNLV’s Buchanan Natatorium.

But he figured his team would need more than that to win the championship.

Less than a week before the state meet, Nicholson made a switch in his relay squads, pulling Indiana signee Cody Miller from the 200-yard medley relay.

The strategy worked, and Palo Verde glided to the state title with 105 points. Boulder City was second with 82, trailed by Bishop Gorman and Green Valley with 48 and 47, respectively.

“We made a change, and the change paid off,” Nicholson said. “We took a gamble, and they stepped up and did it.”

Bishop Gorman captured the girls title, edging Green Valley 82-80. The Gaels took the lead shortly after senior diver Ciera Cortney won her fourth state title with a final-round score of 488.10, only .45 off the state record she set in 2008.

In the boys meet, Nicholson’s relay strategy was designed to strengthen Palo Verde later in the day. Miller and Gianni Sesto helped lead a winning 400-yard freestyle relay squad in the final event.

“We knew we were going to be weak at the back end of the meet,” Nicholson said. “So we analyzed the times and analyzed the boys, and we made the teams. We took Cody off the medley relay. We mulled it around, but it was the right decision.”

Miller broke two state records, finishing first in the 200-yard individual medley in 1 minute, 47.53 seconds — blasting the previous mark by nearly four seconds — and the 100 breaststroke in 54.55 seconds. He also led the victorious 200 freestyle relay (1:28.37) and 400 freestyle relay (3:09.47).

“He wanted to go out with a bang,” Nicholson said. “He was out there to do it. But it’s an awesome group of boys. They’re all fantastic.”

Sesto supplied three victories, winning individually in the 100 freestyle in a state-record 45.54 and the 100 backstroke in 51.36. The senior also anchored the winning foursome in the 200 medley relay (1:38.74) and 400 freestyle relay.

“We knew that would surprise a lot of teams out here, but we felt like we could at least take first or second without (Miller in the medley relay), and it would just make our other relays stronger,” Palo Verde assistant coach Brent Gonzalez said. “And so we took the chance. It was not an easy decision all week.”

In the girls meet, Gorman also relied on freshmen Meghan Boland and Olivia Barker, who each won two events.

Boland won the 200 individual medley in 2:06.14 and the 100 breaststroke in 1:04.42. Barker captured the 50 freestyle in 24.01 and the 100 butterfly in a state-record 55.26.

Gorman finished second in the 200 medley relay and 200 freestyle relay.