Kirsten Vose

Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy's Kirsten Vose is the 2013 All-Area Girls' Swimmer of the Year. (Cheryl A. Guerrero/Staff Photographer / August 10, 2013)

It was five years ago when Kirsten Vose decided to take up swimming. She’d always been a “water person” and quickly took to racing.

Fast forward a few years and Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy swim Coach Steve Bergen was hearing rumors that a “special kid” was joining the team. That unique talent was Vose, who started her freshman year with the Tologs in 2012.

“I don’t know exactly why I love [swimming] so much, but there’s just something about it,” Vose said. “I guess just the racing is fun. … You can always be better than you were before; if you put in the effort, you will get better.”

Two years later, Vose has demonstrated her natural ability by carrying Sacred Heart to consecutive outright Mission League titles and a pair of individual wins in CIF Southern Section Division I events. Previously, the Tologs hadn’t posted a CIF win since 2010 or a sole league championship in five years.

“I don’t think I anticipated her being as special as she is,” Bergen said, “but we were certainly lucky she came on board.”

It’s not hard to see why Vose has an advantage in the pool. She towers over almost everyone she faces, nearly standing 6-feet tall.

“She’s built perfectly for the breaststroke and as an elite-level swimmer,” Bergen said of the 15-year-old. “You watch Missy Franklin, you watch Katy Ledecky and some of these really just top-level swimmers and Kirsten’s built very similar to them.

“Originally, I think a lot of [Vose’s skill] was inherited talent, but I think her work ethic is catching up to her just natural ability.”

While Vose was the perfect example of a freshman phenom, there was never a hint of a sophomore slump. She won all but one race this year en route to four event titles at the Mission League Finals and a seventh-place team finish in Division I for Sacred Heart.

“We had the best CIF we’ve had as a team, it was a huge improvement from last year,” said Katie Altmayer, who set three new school records for the Tologs this year. “It’s one of the best CIF performances we’ve had in a long time.”

Vose cemented her place as the 2013 All-Area Girls’ Swimmer of the Year, as voted on by the writers and editors of the Glendale News-Press, Burbank Leader, La Cañada Valley Sun and Pasadena Sun, when she lived up to her top seed and won the CIF Southern Division I 100-yard breaststroke in one minute, 2.57 seconds.

While Vose was still an elite breaststroker when she was runner-up in Division I last year, she expanded her range in 2013.

“Her breaststroke improved this year, but she improved so much more this year in the fly, the back and the free,” said Bergen, crediting it all to her hard work. “She really became a monster.

“I think now, as a sophomore going into her junior year, she’s going to get recruited by most schools in the country much more so, because she’s a much more well-rounded swimmer than she was last year.”

One of those things that’s helped fuels Vose’s motivation in workouts is the recent memory of Andrea Kropp, who won four CIF titles in three years, at Sacred Heart. She’s gone on to shine in the pool at Princeton University, USC and perhaps most notably at the U.S. Olympic Swimming Team Trials.

“Definitely, to know that a girl who got third at trials went to our high school is amazing,” said Kate Herrill, a Sacred Heart freshman. “She’s an idol for Kirsten and I.”

Vose began to creep up on Kropp’s place in Sacred Heart lore when she became the first Tolog since Kropp to win a CIF title in the breaststroke. Kropp won the same event in a school record 1:01.23, which still stands, in 2010.

“She’s one of the great high school swimmers in San Gabriel Valley history and certainly the best swimmer in Flintridge history,” Bergen said of Kropp, adding his 2013 squad was likely the best team in school history. “That’s a legacy that Katie, Emily, Kirsten, Kate and all these other girls have all tried to live up to because Andrea set the bar really high a couple years ago.”

Vose’s CIF performance came on the heels of a dominating showcase at the Mission League Finals when she won four titles in the breaststroke (1:02.82), individual medley (2:03.94), 200- (1:36.95) and 400-freestyle relays (3:42.21).

“It was really important because then I knew I could do it at CIF, too,” said Vose of league finals. “It gave me more confidence I could go that fast at CIF and perform that well.”

CIF was certainly a pressure cooker for Vose, who’d dominated the whole year and entered the meet as the No. 1 seed in the 200 individual medley and breaststroke.

The meet started off better than could have been hoped for Sacred Heart and Vose, when she teamed with Altmayer, Emily Balog and Herrill for a win in the first race of the day — the 200-medley relay.

The Tologs foursome overcame an eighth-place position after the first 50 yards to win it with Herrill sprinting her way home in the anchor and freestyle leg. Herrill completed the race in 1:44.26, just out touching University’s runner-up team (1:44.92).

“I have been swimming for four or five years and that is the most exciting race I have ever had,” said Herrill, who swam a 22.82 leg for the win and served as Sacred Heart’s immediate impact freshman this season.

“We didn’t really expect to win,” said Altmayer, who swam a 24.53 third butterfly leg. “We knew we had a chance at top three but the win was a huge deal, and we could not believe how huge it was. It was such an adrenaline rush and I think we had trouble coming back from that, especially right after the race.”

It was perhaps most apparent with Vose, who had a disastrous performance in the 200 individual medley after two false starts occurred while she was on the block. She eventually slid from her top seed to sixth place in 2:05.63.

Ultimately, it was the pressure that admittedly got to Vose.

“I just thought about stuff and it just got bad, it really hit me,” she said. “I think it more hit since I got first place on Friday at CIF [prelims]. I tried not to think about it on Thursday or on Friday, then I just had to think about it all at once.”

Vose was clearly flustered after the race and her coach and teammates saw it.

“I haven’t seen her like that before to be honest with you, so I really didn’t know what to expect for the breaststroke,” said Bergen, adding it was a level of adversity she hadn’t faced all year coming into the 200-freestyle relay which she, Balog, Altmayer and Herrill took fourth in (1:36.12).

In order to win the breast, Vose had to hold off the two-time champion in University’s Maggie Burton. The senior took a quick .63 of a second lead, but a strong final turn put Vose with Burton neck-and-neck and Vose pushed in front at the last moment to seal the win by .28 of a tick.

When it came to her favorite race of the season, Vose quickly chose the medley relay, not her individual victory, at CIF.

“I didn’t know if I could [beat Burton], but I just had to push out of my mind and keep racing,” Vose said of the breast. “That was also one of my favorite ones, too, but just the excitement and effort we all contributed to the relay and how bad we all wanted it, it just stands out to me more.”

Coming off a successful sophomore season, there’s no doubt Vose will be looking to make more progress in her junior campaign. The first check mark on her list will be breaking Kropp’s breaststroke record.

“Kirsten would be the first to tell you from the moment she arrived here last year that was a record she had her mind on,” Bergen said. “I wasn’t sure she had a shot at getting it maybe until her senior year, but after the 1:02.57 she did at CIF finals it wouldn’t surprise me if she goes and gets it next year.”

It would certainly vault Vose from the natural status she enjoyed as a 10 year old and the champion label she acquired this year to legendary status — all with two high school years left.

“She’s matching everything that Andrea did,” Bergen said. “She’s certainly on pace to equal, if not surpass, the great legacy that Andrea built.”