Area swimmers and divers are taking a plunge toward the state championships.
The Region III swimming and diving championships began Thursday with a preliminary diving competition and continue at 11:15 a.m. today, with the finals beginning at 12:10 p.m. Saturday. All events are at Palmer High School.
Soldotna, Kenai Central, Skyview, Homer and Seward will represent the Kenai Peninsula at the meet.
Perennial power Kodiak must be considered the favorite in both the boys and girls competitions. Coaches agreed it won't be close on the girls side because Kodiak is so much stronger than the field.
"It's a race for second place," SoHi coach Sohail Marey said.
Marey, however, wasn't ready to hand the boys competition to Kodiak. The coach said gold could go to SoHi or Homer if things fall into place.
The Stars finished eight points behind Kodiak at the Palmer Invitational two weeks ago, meaning the gap is close.
"I issued the challenge to the boys," Marey said of toppling Kodiak. "They accepted it and were up to it, so we'll see what happens."
Among the front-runners to reach state for SoHi is Christian Carrico. He boasts the state's second-best time in the 100-yard breaststroke at 1 minute, 3.57 seconds, and the fourth-best time in the 50 freestyle at 22.82.
Carrico also is 10th in the 100 free. Marey expects Carrico to win at least one event and perhaps two.
"He will probably finish first in the breaststroke and should win the region in that event," Marey said. "He is second in the 100 free right now, but he has a good shot at it, too."
Teammate Sawyer Rickman is eighth in the 50 free at 23.06. Rickman also is sixth in the 100 free, entering with a time of 50.50.
The SoHi boys could also vie for a few relay titles, entering second in both the 200 free and 200 medley.
Meanwhile, the SoHi girls are led by Alex Weeks, who is 10th in the 100 free and sixth in the 50 free. The Stars girls also feature the 10th-best 200 medley relay squad.
Homer has three of the state's top 16 divers on the girls side.
Senior Lindsey Seneff is a conference-title contender as she enters with the state's top mark at 211.05, leading runner-up Sophi Hogen of Kodiak (207.95).
Teammate Jasmine Lewis, a transfer student, is ninth at 156.75. Katherine Dolma is tied for 16th at 133.80.
But diving is more unpredictable than swimming, Homer coach Anna Borland-Ivy said, because one dive can ruin a score. That means regular-season marks aren't necessarily indicative of which athletes will excel during the postseason.
"In diving if you mess up on one, you're done," Borland-Ivy said. "Swimming is much more about conditioning and tapering, and diving is learning about dealing with pressure and feeling comfortable with doing dives so many times you can do them in your sleep."
In the boys diving event, Garrett Hall leads the Mariners. He is sixth in the state at 212.90. Teammate Kaec Brinster is 15th at 177.20.
In swimming, the boys are led by four seniors -- Richard Ginter, Kyle Wentz, Nathanael Hardy and James Reid.
Together the quartet will swim the 200 free relay and the 200 medley relay. The unit enters with the state's sixth-best time in the free and seventh-best in the medley.
Borland-Ivy likes their chances.
"They are all hoping to get to state in at least one event," the coach said.
Ginter figures to advance in the 100 butterfly, where he is second. Wentz is eighth in the 100 free. Hardy, meanwhile, is 12th in the 100 breast.
The Homer girls are led by triplets Marie, Emily and Katie Schmidt.
Borland-Ivy said Marie is looking to get to state in the 200 and 500 free, where she enters 14th and eighth, respectively. Emily and Katie, meanwhile, could make the finals in the 200 individual medley and 100 breast, the coach said.
Dana Olesch will compete in the 100 backstroke and 100 fly, though she isn't listed in the top 16 in either event.
"My goal is to get as many kids to state as we can, and to swim well," Borland-Ivy said. "Anything can happen. It could be a really strong meet for some kids if they perform up to their potential."
Skyview brings four boys and four girls into the meet.
The girls are Chelsey Belden, Katie Clonan, Savannah Anchinges and Mika Morton. They will team in the 200 medley relay.
On the boys side, Danny McIntosh, Isha Oftedal, Trace Braxling and Justin Reekie will team for the 400 and 200 free relays.
Coach Stephanie Blair is optimistic about their chances.
"They are pretty competitive with the freestyle," Blair said. "We are hoping they place in the top 12."
None of Skyview's swimmers have ever been to state, meaning the goal is simply to swim personal-best times.
"The mind-set has been trying to be confident in ourselves and trying to concentrate on the intensity of the workouts," Blair said.
The Kenai Central girls should get a quality performance from Olivia Pfeifer. Pfeifer is ninth in the 200 free and seventh in the 500 free.
For the boys divers, the Kardinals feature Cole Gross, who enters eighth in the state, and Bill Ashwell, who is 14th.
Seward's Eileen Audette brings the top time in the 100 breast at 1:08.42, more than 1 second better than Kari Wray of Dimond (1:09.52).