This weekend marks the beginning of the end for high school swimmers and divers, as the Region III meet will be the last appearance for many athletes, but a chance to move on to the state competition for others.
The competition actually began Thursday at Kenai Central High School with diving preliminaries, and continues today with semifinals for all events at 9 a.m. before wrapping up with the final rounds Saturday at 1 p.m.
The host Kardinals are hoping for a good result in their own pool, and one needs to look no further than the Kenai diving team.
This includes a boys squad of Bill Ashwell, Cole Gross, Jacob Dye and Josh Peck. Gross placed fifth in the 1-meter diving event at state in 2012. Kenai coach Will Hubler said that along with the boys, McKayla Pitsch and Kirsten Duran look to be competitive on the board as well.
“We’re hoping to get PR’s this weekend,” Hubler said. “I think they’re capable of running with some of the top guys. Cole was top eight last year, and he’s gone toe-to-toe with Brian Rowe from Homer.”
If the Kards can get at least five athletes to state, Hubler said he’ll be happy. Any more and he’ll be ecstatic.
Zoya Hanson, Celestina Castro, Caitlyn Steinbeck and Kirstan Nyquist will serve as key members of the girls side in the swimming events.
“I’m proud of my team all around, because we’re still young,” Hubler said. “They’re not a powerhouse like Kodiak, but they work hard.”
In order to qualify for state, a swimmer or diver must rank among the top 12 after the preliminaries on Friday, and the top six competitors race for a region championship win.
Hubler said this year has not been one of surprises in the region. The Palmer girls, the Colony boys, and the entire Kodiak fleet are as strong as ever, with the Bears the favorites to sweep the title.
Coach Lucas Petersen agreed with Hubler on the competition, and said his boys and girls teams should be mixed in with many of those in the running for a region title.
“For our boys and girls, finishing in the top two would be a good goal,” Peterson said. “I think finishing in the top two or three teamwise would be my expectations.”
The SoHi teams both finished third as a team at the Valley Invitational two weeks ago
“Kodiak girls have come out ahead, but our girls and Palmer’s girls are close, we’ve come out a little ahead of them on most meets this year,” he said.
Petersen put the number of kids hoping for a state bid at 10. If five boys and five girls qualify, he’ll be satisfied.
Headlining that list are juniors Megan English and Alex Weeks. Both swimmers have had good performances in recent weeks in the backstroke and butterfly events. Rachel Henry, Kaitlynn Groleske and Molly Silta add to the state-hopefuls lineup. Groleske won the 200 IM at the Valley Invite earlier this year.
“They’ve had a couple good ones, Alex has really improved this season and I hope to see her step up this and next weekend,” Petersen said. “Megan has been solid this year, I think she’s swimming about as fast as last year.”
English competed in the 100 backstroke and 100 butterfly at state last year, along with two relays. Weeks placed fifth in the 50 freestyle and fourth in the 100 freestyle.
Three seniors will be the ones to look for on the Soldotna boys side. Daniel McElroy, Dustin Hunter and Chase Corona all went to state last year, and all three are on par to do it again in 2013. Hunter was a 200 IM and 100 butterfly state qualifier last year, and McElroy did the same in the 50 free and 100 breaststroke races. All three were members of the boys 200 medley and free relays.
“Relays are a good way to get more people to state,” Petersen said. “Dustin and Daniel hold a good shot for getting to state individually.”
Freshmen Jacob Creglow and Cody Watkins are also tabbed as darkhorses by Petersen on the boys side.
First-year coach Lindsey Fagrelius will be leading the five members of the Skyview swimming team to the school’s final region meet, and said that the team has come up with shirts that read, “Going out in a flash!”
“Some of them know they’re not going to make it to state, and so it’s the last meet for them,” Fagrelius said. “The seniors are kind of sad and nostalgic. They’ve been looking forward to it, and we’ve been enjoying it.”
The four girls on the team — seniors Mika Morton and Liz McGlothem, and Shayla Hardcastle and Hailey Trefont — are combining for a shot at the 200 free and 200 medley relay races.
“The expectations are looking at times like we have a group that could make finals in a relay,” Fagrelius said. “They’ve improved their times over the year, especially for our new swimmers.”
Morton is an adept butterflier whose goal is to qualify in the 100 backstroke even as well, according to Fagrelius, and McGlothem will be in the 100 breaststroke and 200 free events. Trefont, a new swimmer, will be in the 100 backstroke and 50 free races, while Hardcastle remains a threat in the distance events like the 500 free.
Sam Scheller has an outside shot of placing well in the finals of the boys 100 breaststroke and 200 free races, and Fagrelius said he has been looking stronger as the season has gone by.
Overall, Fagrelius said she wants her team to perform their best races of the season at one of the last swimming contests for the Panthers.
“I’m an optimist, but it’s a competitive meet and most teams have swimmers that train year-round,” she said. “When you see them race though, that’s when it comes out. The last meet everyone did well and improved a lot, and that was a point when our workouts were heavy, so it was impressive to see them improving.”
Jasmine Lewis, James Nagle, Katherina Dolma and Brian Rowe were the four Homer swimmers that nabbed a state berth last year.
Homer boys were fourth at the Valley Invite two weeks ago, and this weekend, James Nagle and Brian Rowe look to be big points scorers for the Mariners. Nagle is a butterfly specialist, while Rowe has proven to be quite adept at diving events.
The Seward girls were fourth at the Valley Invite two weeks ago, and early in the season, coach Matt Hershock said he believes his girls team has a couple swimmers with possible chances at making state. That list includes Isabel Barnwell, Olivia Beckham, Jessica Degnan and Sasha Hamner, with an outside shot for Rachel Tougas.
The girls 200 medley relay took second place at the Valley Invite, in addition to Barnwell capturing the 100 backstroke event.