The 2012 prep swimming season has already begun with a handful of competitions taking place around the Kenai Peninsula, and local teams have taken note of where they stack up.
The Soldotna Stars have shown early strength, sweeping the team titles in Tuesday’s tri meet against Skyview and Seward, and taking the boys team title in last week’s Kenai tri meet against Kenai Central and Homer.
That meet also resulted in the Kenai girls bringing home the team title, so there is certain to be an interesting fight between the two schools over which Peninsula team holds the advantage.
“We have enough to foster some good relay teams, I think our girls have the depth to have three strong teams, and our guys we can put together some good relays,” first-year Soldotna coach Lucas Petersen said at Friday’s competition. “I’m happy with where we started out. I think with our relays, these are some of our faster times from last year, and we’re starting out with those times.”
Soldotna won every relay except for the girls 200-yard medley, with Kenai taking that race.
Among the competitors from Soldotna that have produced successful swims thus far and are on the radar to qualify for state are sophomore Alex Weeks, sweeping the 200-yard freestyle and the 100 free at the Kenai meet, as well as swimming the first leg of 200 free relay that won. Weeks also won the girls 50 free and the 100 butterfly at Soldotna on Tuesday.
Petersen also mentioned junior Kaitlyn Groleske as a threat this year, having won the 200 IM and 100 fly at Kenai, and taking the 200 free and 100 back at Soldotna.
Dustin Hunter won the boys 200 free, the 100 fly, swam the first leg of the winning 200 free relay, and swam the second leg of the 400 free relay at the Kenai meet, and was victorious in the 200 IM and 100 backstroke on Tuesday, while Sawyer Rickman has proven to be a speed demon in the pool, winning the 50 free and the 100 backstroke last week at Kenai, but has the stamina to swim the 500 free like he did on Tuesday.
“I know throughout the season, they’re going to tire out and be fatigued, but I know we’ll see gradual improvement throughout the year and see times drop,” Petersen said. “I think a lot of the team, we’re aiming to do our best at regions, because not everyone will qualify for state, but I would like to see our relays be competitive and go to state.”
Soldotna is the most recent state champion of the Peninsula schools, winning the girls and boys titles in 2002.
Kenai Central Kardinals
The Kardinals have showed up with some impressive swims, and an improved diving team.
In the boys 1-meter diving event last week at Kenai, the Kardinals’ Cole Gross finished second with 169.35 points, and Kenai grabbed three of the top five spots overall.
“Our diving, only in our third year, is doing amazing,” Kenai assistant Judy Lallier said. “They’ve been working hard at practice and they’ve been to a couple camps.”
Both Kenai coaches pointed to Homer as a team with strong diving performances, but said they would like to see Kenai make some noise this year.
“SoHi and Homer always bring stiff competition, but our girls team is going to be strong,” Kenai head coach Will Hubler said at Kenai’s home meet. “Our boys team is still pretty young, but we had some phenomenal times today. I’m pretty excited to go to the Homer Invitational in two weeks, with the number of schools that will be there.”
Kaitlyn Louthan won the 50 free, anchored the winning 200 medley relay, and anchored the 400 free relay team that finished second at the Kenai meet, and won the 100 fly on Tuesday at Soldotna.
Chelsea Chess won the girls 100 breaststroke last week with a time of 1:20.72 to grab Kenai’s other individual win.
“Our goal is to get as many kids to state, and some of our divers are trying to get to state in both diving and racing, which is a good goal for them,” Hubler said. “I hope we sneak a couple of our girls relays to state, that could happen.
“I’m looking at eight to 10 kids to state. Maybe 12 if we get a relay or two.”
According to first-year head coach Rebecca Hardy, the Homer Mariners are looking good with a young team, numbering 20 swimmers total.
“We ended up with more juniors than I thought, and we have eight freshman,” Hardy said. “So with a small team that we have, we’re looking strong, plus we’re still waiting for a few swimmers to finish their physicals or become eligible with practices.”
Other school’s coaches have pointed to Homer as having a talented diving team, but Hardy said this year will be about a well-rounded team.
Last season, Homer qualified six seniors for the state competition, all of which are gone this year. Richard Ginter won the 50 freestyle at state, and was part of the state-winning 200 freestyle relay team, also comprised of James Reid, Nathanael Hardy and Kyle Wentz.
“We have a young team that has a ton of potential, and I expect we can take some swimmers to state this year,” Hardy said. “We can grow, our freshman class is strong, and next year’s batch of freshmen will be strong.”
Homer junior Brain Rowe won the boys 1-meter diving competition with 181.85 points at Kenai last week, and Jasmine Lewis took the girls diving event with 159.5 points.
Cyrus Cowan won the boys 100 breaststroke and James Nagle won the boys 200 IM for Homer’s individual wins. Nagle also competed at state last year in the 500 free and the 100 fly.
Coach Hardy takes over the head coaching job for Anna Borland-Ivy after filling an assistant position for a few years.
“Some of our kids came up through club swimming, and with the strong senior team last year, it excited some of the younger swimmers,” Hardy said. “We do things a little different here in Homer, so hopefully this will shape up to be a great year.”
Skyview showed up to compete on Tuesday at Soldotna, and with the limited numbers, held their own.
“We’ve always competed with the same people,” Skyview head coach Cassie Boze said. “We don’t have a feeder team like some of the other schools have, so many of our swimmers are first-time swimmers.”
Skyview will be sporting such names this year like senior Trace Braxling, who finished second in the boys 200 free and 100 breaststroke events at Soldotna’s Tuesday meet.
Boze said Braxling has a realistic shot at making state, along with Mika Morton on the girls side. Morton will be swimming the butterfly and individual medley races this year, according to Boze.
With only nine swimmers on the roster so far, Boze realizes the competition the Panthers are up against, but said both Braxling and Morton would like to qualify for a spot in a finals event at the conference meet.
Sophomore Sam Scheller is a returning swimmer in the butterfly events, and is versatile, having placed third in the 100 fly and 100 back at Soldotna on Tuesday.
“A lot of them come out and think a swim team is splashing around in the pool, and the ones that stick around are the ones that put in the time and technique work,” Boze said. “We teach them from the ground up.
“The first three weeks of practice have been like a boot camp, getting them to a competitive level.”
Boze steps up from the assistant coaching job of three years to take the reigns, and said she, along with Skyview pool manager Luke Baumer, would like to build a bigger and better team in coming years.
“We’ve ordered new suits and caps this year, and we hope next year’s freshmen, along with this year’s team can grow the sport,” she said. “We’d like to incorporate a feeder program.”
The Seward Seahawks were well represented at the Soldotna tri meet on Tuesday, with 12 swimmers out for the team this year.
“We’re looking really well and practicing hard, and we’re way ahead of schedule from last year,” Seward head coach Matt Hershock said. “We hosted a swim camp with club teams a week before the high school season, just to get our strokes in order and aerobic activity going. We even had a couple of coaches from Wyoming come up.”
Hershock said a few of former Seward swimmer Ryan O’Leary’s coaches made the trip to Alaska recently to give advice and instruction at swim camps.
“They gave us a jump on our season,” he said.
Hershock said he has high hopes for two swimmers making it to the state competition, citing junior Noah Hamlin and Isabele Barnwell as state hopefuls.
“If everything goes well, they should make it,” Hershock said. “It all depends on how fast the field is this year.”
Hamlin won the boys 100 fly at Tuesday’s meet with a time of 1:05.92, along with competing in the boys 1-meter diving event. Hamlin is the only Seward diver.
Barnwell won the girls 500 free and 200 IM on Tuesday.
Hershock said sophomore Olivia Beckham is looking strong in practice, and will swim the 200 medley, along with a spot on the 200 free relay team, which won Tuesday’s event with a time of 1:53.94.
“We have no seniors this year, which is different,” Hershock said. “But we talked about goals on the first day of practice, and number one is have a good time. If that’s your goal, that’s fine to have.
“Number two goal is to try hard, because the more successful you are, the more fun you’ll have, so the goals are intertwined with each other.”
While there are no major swim competitions this weekend, next weekend’s Homer Invitational will gather most of the Peninsula’s top teams. The competition will be held Friday and Saturday.