By Richard Obert
TEMPE, Ariz., November 7. ALEX Righi came within one one-hundredth of a second of tying the most prestigious swimming record in Arizona state history Saturday. Then, about 10 minutes later, the Brophy Prep School senior broke his own one-day old state mark in the 100-yard backstroke.
Righi swam the first leg of Brophy's 200 yard freestyle relay in an attempt to break former Brophy great Gary Hall Jr.'s 10-year-old state record in the 50 free of 20.30 seconds at the Class 5A boys swimming and diving championships.
With fans encouraging him at Arizona State's Mona Plummer Aquatic Center, Righi touched the wall at 20.31. He then watched the rest of his teammates, including his brother Carter, a junior, break the state record in the relay, before doing a short warm-down and jumping back in the pool for the 100 backstroke.
Righi, who also won the 100 freestyle (a nation-leading 44.76, just off Hall's state record of 43.85), broke the state mark he set in the backstroke a day earlier during preliminaries by two one-hundredths of a second at 48.00 seconds. The time is the fastest in the nation thus far this season, and one of the fastest high school swims of all time.
"So close," Righi said about the 50 record. "I'm still happy with that swim. If I had just kicked a little bit harder . . .
"I probably could have swum a little bit harder in the 50. In the 100 back, my legs didn't die. I felt pretty good."
Brophy, which got two more individual titles from senior David Pursley (who became only the fourth boy in Arizona history to break 4:30 in the 500 freestyle), set state records in the 200 medley relay (1:33.70), with Righi swimming the first leg of that, and 200 freestyle relay (1:23.86) and capped the meet by winning the 400 freestyle relay.
That victory allowed Brophy to tie its state record for point total in the state final with 515 points. It was Brophy's 18th straight state championship. Last season's team scored 515 points.
"We had great senior leadership," Brophy coach Bil Kopas said. "Their goal was to be better than last year's team. They matched them.
"I think we might be in the running for national championship, the top three for sure, with Righi's great times."
As magnificent at Righi was, Pursley was not far behind being swimmer of the year.
Pursley, whose father Dennis is the former US National Team Director and currently is head coach of the Brophy East Swim Club (formerly the Phoenix Swim Club), won the 500 free in 4:29.64. The state record is 4:28.59, set by Tyler DeBerry in 2001.
Pursley also won the 200 individual medley in 1:51.86 and anchored the state record 200 free relay and the 400 relay.
Brophy had to come back after being behind by a full body length in the 400 relay. Pursley got off the blocks even with North's Ben Roman and overtook him in the final 50 yards.
"You can't take away from Pursley, he was awesome," Kopas said. "Roman is a very good swimmer. But David went up to me and said he wanted to swim anchor. When a kid does that, I know that he's going to dig deeper."
Horizon sophomore Buddy Turner swam a slower time than he did Friday when he broke 21 seconds (20.90) in the 50 freestyle, but he won the event with a time of 21.05. Turner also won the 100 butterfly.
Mesa Mountain View, led by Clifton Harris, took pride in finishing runner-up, claiming it as the "public-school state championship."
The Toros acculuated 183 points, edging East Valley Region rival Mesa Dobson (176.50).
"We basically look at it where Brophy doesn't even exist," Harris said. "They win every year. They really take the fun out of the sport. But there's always second, always the public school championship, we call it."