Nothing about the Santa Monica High School quartet’s performance in the preliminary race was particularly impressive. But the group saved its best for last.

The four members of the boys 400-yard freestyle relay squad turned in an outstanding effort at the CIF Southern Section Division 3 swimming championships, emerging from the field to take first place in the finals May 12 at Riverside Aquatics Complex at Riverside Community College.

“That was one of the best relays I’ve ever seen at Samo,” longtime Vikings coach Matt Flanders said.

And it was the highlight of the best overall section finish for Samohi in Flanders’ two decades at the helm of the program. The Vikings ended up in third place on the boys side with 183.50 points, finishing behind section champion Walnut (209) and runner-up San Gabriel-Gabrielino (199).

The Samohi girls tallied 123 points to take eighth place in a competition dominated by Pasadena-Poly (361).

The Vikings’ third-place finish on the boys side didn’t come with any hardware, but it spoke to the team’s depth at a meet where its only victory came in the aforementioned relay.

Samohi seniors Brandon Bertolino and Evan Blaney joined juniors Colin Casey and Xander Lee to clock in at 3 minutes 12.58 seconds in the finals, edging Walnut’s relay squad (3:13.85) by more than a second. The Vikings had clocked a 3:17.01 in the prelims, when Walnut was 1.51 seconds faster.

“They really over-performed,” Flanders said. “They’re great athletes, they have a lot of potential and they sure showed it.”

The season isn’t over for Casey. The younger brother of former Samohi standout Brendan Casey is advancing to the CIF state meet in the 100 butterfly after clocking a qualifying time of 50.81 seconds in the race at the section meet, where he came in third behind Gabrielino junior Calvin Giang (50.67) and Los Angeles-Windward sophomore J.P. Mortenson (50.74).

The CIF state event is scheduled for May 20-21 at Clovis West High School in the Fresno area.

“He’s already on track to be a college-level swimmer,” Flanders said of Casey. “He’s a big, strong kid, and he trains hard.”

Lee, meanwhile, was third in the 200 freestyle with a 1:44.31 at the section finals, finishing behind Chatsworth-Sierra Canyon junior Nate Biondi (1:43.07) and Crossroads junior Luke Young (1:43.54).

Throughout the meet, Casey and Lee had the help of two graduating swimmers in Bertolino and Blaney. The same quartet took third place in the 200 medley relay with a 1:39.30.

“Those guys will be missed,” Flanders said of the seniors. “It was a great effort overall.”

On the girls side, the Vikings posted a top-10 finish despite being disqualified in one of their relays. Samohi sophomore Alysa Parungao was fifth in the 100 backstroke and led the 200 freestyle relay to fifth, while freshman Ocelli Altieri-Rivers was fifth in the 500 free.

The section meet came on the heels of the Vikings’ dominance at the Ocean League championships, where the boys and girls captured team titles. The boys racked up 397 points to defeat runner-up Beverly Hills (326), while the girls recorded 453 points to push past second-place El Segundo (315).

“It wasn’t even close,” Flanders said.

jeff@www.smdp.com