Kyla Valls isn’t a twin sister.
But she’s always enjoyed imitating her older sister, Annie, growing up.
“We’ve always kind of done things the same way ever since we were little,” Kyla said. “When [Annie] started swimming, I jumped in the pool and started competing, too.”
Annie followed a solid high school career at Ransom Everglades by becoming a college standout at the College of William and Mary.
Kyla, a 6-1 junior freestyle swimmer at Ransom, isn’t just duplicating her sister’s achievements. She might surpass sister’s and many others’ feats in Ransom’s rich swimming tradition that dates to the early 1960s.
Valls is favored to win the 200 freestyle and has a good chance to make it a double in the 100 free at Friday’s Class 1A state championships at Sailfish Splashpark Aquatic Athletics Center in Stuart.
“Kyla can be the best freestyle swimmer we’ve ever had here,” Ransom coach Andy De Angulo said. “What she can do in the freestyle is that she can extend herself from the 50-yard [event] all the way to the 500 free.
“She has the size and natural ability. If she works hard, nothing can stop her.”
Valls, who started swimming on Ransom’s varsity team in eighth grade, anchored the state championship 200-yard medley relay team, along with her sister, Annie, a senior in 2013, that upset state heavyweight Jacksonville Bolles.
Ever since then, Valls has been showing off her prowess on the national stage.
This past summer, Valls won the Inaugural Futures national championship at Purdue University and qualified for the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials in her main event — the 200-meter butterfly.
The trials are scheduled for June 26 to July 3, 2016, in Omaha, Nebraska.
Valls also will compete this weekend in the relays for Ransom along with Camryn Grussmark, Carlota Verita, Kathleen Hutchinson and Mattie Barfield.
Valls, who grew up admiring Olympians such as Missy Franklin, Katie Hoff and Natalie Coughlin, hopes to follow in the tradition of other past Ransom athletes such as Ashleigh Johnson, a junior at Princeton who is on track to make the next U.S. Olympic team, and Maddy Rosenthal, a national champion at Southern California.
“Ever since I jumped into the pool as a kid, I just loved the competition,” Valls said. “I love the feeling when I’m swimming and to just go all out to beat everyone and try to be the best.”
Gulliver Prep has been dominant the entire season.
Should the Raiders’ girls perform to their capabilities Saturday in Stuart and secure their second consecutive Class 2A state title, and their boys counterparts also secure the gold, they would become the first Miami-Dade County school to sweep both genders in the same year since Miami Springs in 1967.
Gulliver’s girls have a stacked squad led by Nikki Urquidi (200 free, 500 free), Kelly Fertel (200 IM, 100 breaststroke), Andrea Santander (50 free, 100 free) and Emily Cordovi (100 fly, 100 back) that are all seeded in the top four in their respective events.
The Raiders are also heavily favored to win the 200-free relay and 400-free relay.
On the boys’ side, Miguel Cancel leads Gulliver in the 400-free relay and is a favorite in the 200- and 500-freestyle races. But will it be enough to dethrone Plantation American Heritage, which is vying for its third consecutive state title?
Heritage won the regional team title over Gulliver and is led by Julien Pinon, a favorite in the 100 butterfly. The Patriots are also favorites to win the 200- and 400-free relays.
Other boys’ contenders are Mater Lakes’ Ervin Marin (200 IM, 100 breaststroke) and St. Brendan’s Irvin Hoost (50 free, 100 free).
On the girls’ side, American Heritage’s Catharine Cooper is expected to do well in the 50 free and 100 free
1A TEAM OUTLOOK
As a team, Ransom Everglades and every other Class 1A team is chasing second-place as Jacksonville Bolles is once again expected to swim away with the team championship for what would be the 28th consecutive year for the boys and 25th in a row for the girls.
But a few local swimmers have a chance to bring home state titles.
Among the boys’ swimmers seeded in the top four in their respective events in Class 1A are: Riviera Prep’s Sean Arrington (200 IM, 100 fly); University School’s Patrick Groters (200 IM); North Broward Prep’s Anton Voronin (50 free); and South Florida HEAT’s Luke Smutny (500 free, 100 fly).
For the girls, it’s Westminster Academy’s Jessica Nava (100 fly, 100 back) and Elizabeth Zubero (100 breaststroke), and University School’s Allison Copas, University (200 IM).
Coming off a season in which Broward County divers won six state championships, there might be more in store starting this weekend.
Broward has the top seed in all four diving competitions this weekend: Pompano Beach’s Carolyn Ehrlich; Cardinal Gibbons’s Zach Allen; Pine Crest’s Austin Fields; and Westminster Academy’s Johanna Holloway. Ehrlich, Allen and Fields all won state titles last season.