A season’s worth of hard work and training will be tested this weekend at the Region III swimming and diving championships in Homer.
Preliminary events for diving began Thursday, and continue with semifinals today, starting with the girls diving semis at 9:30 p.m. and boys diving semis at 11 a.m. Swimming prelims begin at 3 p.m.
Swimming and diving finals start at 1 p.m. on Saturday.
The general consensus among Peninsula coaches is that Kodiak will be fielding the strongest team. Although they are not unbeatable, it will take a team effort to topple the Bears at the regional competition.
Among local schools, Soldotna has produced a strong season in various meets this season, but is closely tailed by competitors.
First-year Soldotna head coach Lucas Petersen said the team goals this year have been to improve upon last year and the accomplishments the Stars achieved.
“We plan on moving up on how we score as a team, and we set our goals on what we want to accomplish with our relays,” Petersen said. “We have a few guys that can score well and really help out with the relays.”
Petersen said he expects to see at least 10 swimmers qualify for the state competition.
Senior Sawyer Rickman has been stout this season in the sprint races, particularly freestyle events and is set to race in the 50-yard free and 100 free events this weekend.
“Sawyer is a senior that I expect to do well this weekend,” Petersen said.
Petersen also mentioned junior Dustin Hunter as an adept butterfly swimmer, junior Daniel McElroy as a good breaststroker, and junior Chase Corona-Cain as a good all-around swimmer, who could be vital in the relays.
On the girls side, sophomore Alex Weeks has a similar schedule as Rickman, and is known as a good freestyle sprinter, who is also a key member on the relays. Junior Kaitlyn Groleske has also been a threat all season, especially in the 100 butterfly, and is expected to continue to contend.
“I expect to see her do well,” Petersen said. “We have a lot of good girls that will do well.”
Junior Sabrina Gibbs has ranked high this season in the diving competition, and Petersen expects that she will score points for the girls team.
Petersen said every athlete is limited to a total of four events, but Kodiak still ranks as numero uno on most teams’ radars.
“Kodiak has definitely been a fast team for several years, and almost without a doubt, their team is a favorite to win,” he said. “Our girls are more or less fighting for a spot there. Our boys, the gap is going to be less, but things will really have to go our way. It’s a possibility, but an uphill battle for us.”
KENAI CENTRAL KARDINALS
The Kards sport an impressive girls team, with standouts such as Kaitlyn Louthan, Chelsea Chess, Caitlin Steinbeck and Kirsten Nyquist.
Louthan has been swimming near the front of the pack in races such as the 50 free and 100 fly this season, and has been an asset on Kenai’s relays as well.
Earlier this season, Kenai head coach Will Hubler said he had high hopes for the girls team and making it to state.
“I hope we sneak a couple of our girls relays to state, that could happen,” Hubler said. “I’m looking at eight to 10 kids to state. Maybe 12 if we get a relay or two.”
The Kenai boys have put up showings this season that have competed with Soldotna, as Cole Gross has produced good results in the diving competitions this year as well as the sprint races. Bill Ashwell, Jacob Dye and Riley Wik will join Gross as likely point scorers in the races.
Homer, like Soldotna, has been operating under a head coach in the first year at the helm, and Rebecca Hardy said the region competition being in Homer is exciting for the team.
“The team has been doing great, and it’s exciting to have the event here, there’s no anxiety around the blocks or the usual things that come up,” Hardy said. “I have 15 kids on the team, so we’re not necessarily looking to compete against Kodiak, because they’re an amazing team.”
Hardy said James and Mark Nagle, both juniors, and freshman Greg Smith look the strongest heading into the region meet. James Nagle competes in the 100 fly and 200 IM, while Mark swims the 200 free and 500 free. Smith is entered in the 200 and the 500 IM.
“He’s dropped his time a lot, we’ll see how he does,” Hardy said of Smith. “He practices hard, and I think they’re all ready.”
Homer’s lone senior on the team is Lydia Arndt, who is looking like the leading scorer on the girls side. Arndt is entered in the 100 fly and 200 IM, both races in which she has swam well in this year. Sophomore Cheyenne Smith joins Arndt as the Mariners’ top hopes.
“We hope to bring home some points and score well and wait and see how it shakes out and who else is swimming,” Hardy said. “They’ve trained for this and they’re going to swim hard.”
Jasmine Lewis and Katherine Dolma have led Homer in girls diving this year, and Brian Rowe will be a big points scorer for Homer in the boys diving event, according to Hardy, as he has been all season.
Head coach Matt Hershock brings to Homer a team that features a few standouts, but nothing that will match up against the powerhouse teams like Kodiak.
“I usually have them resting the last week of practice, but I also have them do 50-yard sprints,” Hershock said. “Everyone tapers differently, but what we hope to accomplish by doing this is having the kids peak at the right time by gauging when they will peak.”
Junior Noah Hamlin will likely be the leader on the boys squad, racing in the 50 free and 100 fly.
On the girls side, Isabel Barnwell and Olivia Beckham stand out as state hopefuls, as Barnwell will represent both ends of the spectrum by racing the 50 and 500 freestyle, and Beckham joining Barnwell in the 50 free, as well as racing the 100 backstroke.
“In the 50 free, anything can happen,” Hershock said. “If you have a lane, you can win.”
Jessica Degnan might also join Barnwell and Beckham as point scorers for Seward, possibly joining a relay.
Hershock said it’s difficult to put together a winning relay team because many of the best swimmers are putting their best efforts into individual events, but Hershock is confident with Seward’s relay teams.
“They’re going to have to bring it tomorrow,” He said.
Skyview’s best hopes of qualifying swimmers for state come in the form of senior Trace Braxling of the boys squad.
Earlier this season, Skyview coach Cassie Boze said Braxling had a realistic shot at making state, along with Mika Morton on the girls side. Morton has been swimming the butterfly and individual medley races this year.
Sophomore Sam Scheller has raced predominantly in butterfly events this season, and could make a splash at regions.