Being happy with the way your swim program is progressing is one thing. Thinking that program can knock Kodiak from its Region III perch is quite another.
On the girls side, the Bears have won seven straight region titles and will be led this season by seniors Tahna Lindquist and Ila Hughes.
Lindquist was the outstanding girls swimming performer at last year’s state meet, has won six individual state titles and holds the 200-yard individual medley state record. Hughes also has six individual state titles and the state 100 freestyle record to her credit.
On the boys side, the Bears have taken five straight region crowns and welcome freshman Talon Lindquist to the team. Tahna and Talon both have Kodiak coach John Lindquist as their father.
Talon is nationally ranked in his age group in several strokes. His father told the Kodiak Daily Mirror that his son’s 100 backstroke time is already faster than the high school state record.
Soldotna coach Lucas Petersen, like the coaches at Kenai Central, Homer and Seward, is happy with his program, but knows beating the Bears for a region title is a tall order.
“They’ve obviously got a great tradition now going,” Petersen said. “They’ve got two really good girls seniors swimmers, but it will be good competing against those girls.
“They’ve added some young boys to the roster that make them a good team to compete with, too.”
Soldotna started its season with a trip to Kodiak last weekend, and was swept in dual meets on Friday and Saturday.
New Homer coach Scott Smith, who competed against John Lindquist on the Alaska swim scene in high school, also thinks Kodiak’s program is something to aspire to, but not to beat this year.
“Beating a team like Kodiak is something that will take a few years,” Smith said. “You can’t get in the water short-term and do miraculous swims that are going to beat them.”
The following is a closer look at the Peninsula’s swim teams.
First-year swim coach Smith brings Division I experience to the Mariners program.
Smith, who won a team state championship and individual state titles for Service in the early 1980s, was inspired to coach watching the Region III meet in Kenai last season.
“I was looking at these guys at regions that really had the capacity to do well,” he said. “I started talking to people about coaching and things worked out.”
Smith also is thrilled Neil Romney took over the club program in Homer.
“He’s not much of a swimmer, but he has a masters in exercise science, he’s an exercise nut and a brilliant technician,” Smith said. “I will not be able to take the kids as far as I could without his incredible knowledge.
“I’m a guy that has years in the water and understands the mechanics in the water, and he understands tempo and the mechanical side of training.”
Smith has 21 swimmers out for the team.
He said the girls team will be led by senior Cheyanne Smith, junior Lauren Kuhns and freshmen Aurora Shadle and Hannah Mershon.
But Smith is also happy about somebody like senior Jenna Fabich, who never swam before but dropped her 50 freestyle time from 48 to 36 seconds in two weeks.
“It’s because they’re all getting good technique and working hard,” he said.
On the boys side, Smith said junior Greg Smith has the potential to be as good of a swimmer as his father was.
Smith also sees a bright future ahead for freshman Griffin Downey and sophomores Remi Nagle and Leo Castellani.
“I’d like to thank the parents and school staff for giving me an easy transition into coaching,” Smith said.
Kenai Central Kardinals
Co-head coaches Judy Lallier and Will Hubler enter a fifth year together with 28 swimmers.
“It’s a close team and a group of hard-working kids,” Lallier said.
The team will be led by senior captains Celestina Castro and Josh Peck. Both qualified for state last season in the 100 butterfly. Lallier said Peck has really improved his butterfly and backstroke, giving him a shot of adding an individual medley state qualification to his resume this season.
“We have great freshmen coming in and really strong seniors,” said Lallier, with Hubler next to her adding that the team also has a solid middle.
Lallier said some more of the senior leaders are Jacob Dye, Mariah Schloeman and Kirsten Nyquist.
Some of the talented freshmen are Hunter Reese, Zion Alioto and diver Mikaela Pitsch.
Emilee Sawyer takes over the team after coaching Seward’s club squad for four years.
When former high school coach Matt Hershock left, Seward was having a hard time filling the position so Sawyer stepped in.
The only catch is Sawyer is pregnant and due on Nov. 9, so she will probably miss the region meet and state.
She said that’s not a big deal because most of the coaching has been done by then, anyway.
Seward has four swimmers out for the team.
Senior Sasha Hamner told Sawyer she plans on making state this year, and taking Sawyer with her.
Hamner was close last season in the 100 breaststroke.
“She’s trying really hard so she can make state this year,” Sawyer said.
The coach also sees promise in freshman Elena Hamner, who has swam year-round with the club team.
The other girls swimmer is freshman Megan Koster, who has been on the club team for two years.
Sawyer said Koster was very nervous for her first meet Friday in Kenai, but then went out and won her heat in the 50 freestyle.
The boys team is made up of Roma Hamner.
“He’s a really good team leader,” Sawyer said. “He keeps everyone focused.”
By getting some swimmers from Skyview and some others moving into the area, Petersen has numbers in the mid-30s that are the most in his three years in charge of the team.
Petersen also now has former Skyview head coach Lindsay Fagrelius as an assistant. He said she is a great addition due to her swimming knowledge, and because she works inside the building at Soldotna High School, unlike Petersen. Dennis Reger will be the dive coach.
“A third of the team was seniors, so we lost quite a bit,” Petersen said. “Luckily, we gained more back.”
Petersen said the goal for his teams is a top-two finish in the region team standings, and sending as many individuals and relays to state as possible.
Last year, the SoHi boys were second at regions, while the SoHi girls finished three points short of runner-up Palmer.
The SoHi girls will be captained by seniors Alex Weeks and Megan English.
Last season, Weeks was just .03 seconds shy of a state title in the 50 freestyle. She also was third in the 100 freestyle.
“She has some of the toughest competition the state has seen in her generation of swimmers,” Petersen said. “But that only makes her a better swimmer.”
English qualified for state in the 100 butterfly and 100 backstroke, while senior Rachel Henry made it in the 500 freestyle and 100 breaststroke, gaining the finals and taking eighth in the breaststroke.
Petersen said Rachel’s sister, junior Isabella, has a good chance of moving up in the IM and backstroke this season.
The coach also likes the potential of swim club veterans Portia Pordilla and Rachel Davidson, both freshmen.
The SoHi boys do not return any swimmers that made state in individual events last season, but sophomores Jacob Creglow and Cody Watkins were both on the 200 freestyle relay team that took eighth.
The boys will be captained by senior freestyler Brent Christenson and junior David Hall, who moved to the area from King Salmon. Petersen said he is happy to have David and his brother, sophomore freestyler Jacob, in the fold.
The coach also said junior Nathaniel Lazaros, an all-around swimmer, has a good chance of making a jump this season.
“We’re hosting regions this year, so it’s good motivation for kids to swim in their home pool,” Petersen said. “I think we have a good, young group that is ready to work hard and swim fast.”