A state meet in any sport can be hard to keep up with so many athletes, but high school swimming and diving takes that to a whole new level.
Thirty-three Peninsula athletes are making the trip to the Dimond Park Aquatic Center in Juneau, and they are just a fraction of the 272 total swimmers and divers that hold hopes of medaling in their events.
The top two divers in each conference tournament qualify for state, along with the next best eight scores. For racing events, the conference champion for each individual contest qualifies, along with the next 12 best statewide times, and the championship relay team from each conference qualifies, along with the next four fastest teams statewide.
The swimming preliminaries start today at 10:15 a.m., and the diving prelims start at 2:15 p.m. Diving semifinals will then begin at 6:30 p.m.
Saturday is the big day, with finals for all 24 events on the docket, starting with the girls 200-yard medley relay at 11:00 a.m.
Soldotna placed the most number of swimmers in event finals last weekend at the Region III meet, and will therefore be bringing the most Peninsula athletes to Juneau. The Stars will have 16, including alternates.
Six SoHi swimmers are competing in multiple individual events — four girls and two boys. On the girls side, Alex Weeks (50 free and 100 free), Kaitlyn Groleske (200 freestyle and 500 freestyle), Megan English (100 butterfly and 100 backstroke) and Rachel Henry (500 free and 100 breaststroke) represent the Stars.
For the SoHi boys, Dustin Hunter (200 IM and 100 butterfly) and Daniel McElroy (50 free and 100 breaststroke) both hold shots at taking the podium at state, and Chase Corona-Cain will join them in the 100 backstroke.
SoHi coach Lucas Petersen said he believes Weeks can win the shorter of her two races, the 50 freestyle event, which would make her the first Soldotna swimmer to win a state championship race since Abby Kiffmeyer in 2003. Kiffmeyer took gold in the 100 backstroke and 100 butterfly that year.
“On paper, the best chance we have is Alex Weeks,” Petersen said. “She’s seeded first and second in her individual events, so I think she has a good shot at least at medaling.”
McElroy comes in as a contender for a podium spot in the 50 free and 100 breaststroke, having won both events at the Region III championships last weekend, and Petersen also said he thinks Hunter has a good shot at the 100 butterfly finals.
SoHi also has two relay teams in the mix at state — the girls 200 medley and the boys 200 freestyle relays.
“I’m excited to watch our relay teams,” Petersen said.
English, Henry, Groleske and Weeks make up the girls medley relay, and Corona-Cain, Hunter, McElroy and Brent Christenson compose the boys freestyle relay.
The trip to Juneau also presents a greater challenge for the teams, regarding the complications that can result with the logistics, and the trip can make for potentially sluggish times, but Petersen said he is not worried in the slightest.
“Nothing will slow us down,” he said. “I’ve learned that throughout the years. You can swim fast anytime, anywhere. It’s definitely a little more difficult logisticswise, but it’s an experience the kids will remember.”
Kenai is making the trip with less kids, but still holds a shot at a winning performance.
Kenai hasn’t gone as long as SoHi has without a state championship swimmer (Winter Heaven in 2010), and Cole Gross and Bill Ashwell swept the top two spots on the podium at last weekend’s boys diving event at the Region III meet.
Gross is seeded seventh among the 16 swimmers in the state championships, with a best dive score of 327.15 from Saturday’s performance.
Kirsten Duran also qualified for state as part of the Kenai girls diving team, having finished second to Homer’s Jasmine Lewis last weekend.
Two Kenai swimmers will vie for a finals spot at state in individual events — Celestina Castro in the 100 butterfly and Josh Peck in the 100 butterfly.
Homer also has a strong contingent of divers, but Mark Nagle represents the Homer Mariners in two individual events this weekend — the 200 and 500 freestyle races — and coach Rebecca Hardy said Nagle will be going all out since it’s his senior year. Nagle nabbed runner-up honors in the 500 free at the Region III meet.
“He’s swam hard all season and has tapered well,” Hardy said. “He has been training well and is excited to see where he can go.”
Nagle’s younger brother, James, joins him at state as a contender in the 100 butterfly event, and Gregory Smith will be racing in the 100 backstroke.
Homer diving coach Harmon Hall said that between the Kenai divers and his Homer squad, he has nine divers that he’s coached in the past year.
“These guys are professionals,” Hall said. “I’ve never been on a board in my life, but my older son was a diver, and I’ve known most of these kids from Homer for a while.”
Jasmine Lewis is going to state as the Region III champion at the girls 1-meter diving event, and third-place finisher Katherine Dolma will join her. On the boys side, third-place Region III finisher Brian Rowe will make the trip along with Ian Hall and Kaec Brinster. Rowe is looking to improve upon the third place he captured at last year’s state meet.
The Seward Seahawks are traveling light. Only four girls are making the trip to Juneau, but they make up two relay teams.
Olivia Beckham, Isabel Barnwell, Sasha Hamner and Jessica Degnan qualified for state in the girls 200 medley and 200 freestyle relays. Both teams qualified for state using time instead of placement, since only winning relay teams make it to state, along with the next four fastest. The Seward medley team finished second to Soldotna last weekend at the Region III championships.
Beckham will also be racing in the girls 50 free and 100 backstroke individual events. She ended up winning the 100 back event at the Region III meet last weekend, and Barnwell’s third-place time was good enough to qualify as well. Barnwell shares Beckham’s slate of events in the 50 free and 100 backstroke.