Soldotna coach Sohail Marey isn't feeling nervous anymore, and that doesn't bode well for the rest of Region III's swimming and diving teams.
Marey, in his third year as the head coach at Soldotna, admitted he had some nervous moments this summer after losing state champion swimmers Joshua Gemmell and Lucas Petersen to graduation.
With those two gone, could the Soldotna boys keep their stranglehold on Region III, which had them winning 21 of the 22 region titles?
"We're really pulling together," Marey said. "I was a little bit nervous waiting for somebody to step up and take the leadership.
"For the last two years, they've relied on experienced swimmers and leaders, and they took the back seat. Within two weeks, we've had people step up into leadership roles. It's been great."
Although he isn't sure of what swimming teams from the Matanuska-Susitna valleys have, Marey said Soldotna's main competition for region glory will be Homer. Last year, SoHi swept the boys and girls region titles for the second straight year.
"It will be a challenge to those kids to keep the tradition," Marey said. "Regions will be at Homer this year, so it's going to be exciting going there."
Although Homer coach Trent Fischer said his boys team is the strongest it's been in his four years as coach, he's not ready to say the Mariners will challenge the Stars.
"I have no idea who they have this year," Fischer said. "It's way too early to say that."
As for the girls, Fischer doesn't think Homer can match up with SoHi.
"We won't be close to the Soldotna girls team," Fischer said. "That's not even an issue."
The following is a closer look at the peninsula's swimming and diving teams:
Fischer has 25 swimmers out for his squad -- 14 girls and 11 boys.
His boys team is loaded with experience.
Kenai's J.D. Pault returns as a senior this year.
Photo by M. SCOTT MOON
"We have pretty much everybody who was on the team last year," Fischer said. "This is their third year as a whole group together."
Fischer said the core group of key swimmers will be juniors Ben Kuhns, Jake Bell, Evan Smith and Andy Vait, the group that went to state on the 200-yard medley relay last year. Kuhns also qualified in the 200 freestyle and 100 backstroke, Smith made it in the 200 individual medley and Bell went in both the 50 and 100 freestyle.
Homer's girls team will be led by senior Monica Ulmer, who finished second at state in the 100 breaststroke and also qualified in the 200 individual medley.
The Mariners also return Renae Rykaczewski, who went to state in the 100 butterfly and 200 individual medley.
Shane Totten joins longtime coaching duo Eleanor Thomson and William Hubler. Totten is in his first year coaching at Kenai Central, while Thomson enters her 15th year and Hubler enters his 11th season.
The trio has 12 swimmers to coach, although an attempt was being made to recruit more to the team.
Totten, who just moved to the peninsula from Florida to teach photography and art at Kenai Central, is already impressed with the group.
"They are one of the best groups of athletes I've ever worked with," Totten said. "They're dedicated and they have great team spirit.
"They have a great team attitude and they're really helping each other out."
The base of Kenai's team will be five seniors. J.D. Pault and Jesse Tapley lead the boys team. Pault qualified for state last year in the 100 backstroke, while Tapley will swim freestyle for the Kardinals.
The key girls seniors will be Jen Jenkins, Marcie Woodard and Kelsie Remsen. Jenkins went to state last year in the 100 butterfly, while Woodard will swim breaststroke and individual medley, and Remsen will do long distance.
The Kardinals girls also will get points throughout the year from junior Rachel Knowles, who went to state in diving last season.
Filling out the girls team will be juniors Ruth McConnell and Heather Benton, freshmen Kelsey Dunn, Desiree Huntsman and Amanda Keen, and senior Janae Saltzgiver.
Janet Van Driessche, who has been coaching the Seahawks since 1991, has about six swimmers out for the team, although that number will slightly increase as the football and cross country seasons come to a close.
"I want to get them a lot of attention," Van Driessche said. "We'll work a lot on technique.
"They have good team spirit. They're a good group."
Even though the team is small, Van Driessche definitely has some quality. Senior Tara Ganser qualified for state last year in the 50 freestyle, and senior Jacob Boulden made it to state in the 100 breaststroke. Van Driessche also is expecting quality swims from senior John Hughes, who will swim mostly freestyle and butterfly.
Joanne Wainwright begins her 12th season at Skyview with a total of 33 swimmers -- eight guys and 25 girls. Numbers are up after last year's turnout of 20.
"That's probably the most girls I've had in a while," Wainwright said, "but I've had larger teams."
Wainwright said the upswing in numbers is due to kids on the team convincing other students to try swimming.
"They seem to be a very receptive group," Wainwright said. "I think they have a lot of potential and athleticism. I have some inexperienced swimmers, but they're willing to learn.
"I think I have a fun team this year, but a competitive team."
Wainwright also mentioned she has a male diver on the team for the first time since James Blake won the state title in 1997.
Marey has 29 swimmers on his team -- 15 boys and 14 girls.
The captain of the boys team will be junior Nick Sorrell, who made it to state last year in the 100 breaststroke.
Other Stars who qualified for state last year are sophomore Leo Grasso (500 freestyle), junior Seth Chavka (200 individual medley) and junior Ty Mann-Schweigert (50 freestyle).
Marey also adds depth and experience with juniors Clayton Harrison, Pehr Hartvigson and sophomore Aladean Marey.
Others Marey is hoping will contribute are junior Evan Hatfield, sophomores Clinton Christenson and Jeff Hopkins, and freshmen Joshua Barsis, Stephen Hutchings and Matt Biggs.
On the girls side, Marey returns many from a team that placed fourth in the state last season. Junior Jenna Syverson and sophomores Abby Kiffmeyer and Karina Petersen were on the 200 medley relay team that finished second in the state.
Syverson also went to state in the 50 and 100 freestyle, while Kiffmeyer also qualified in the 100 butterfly and 100 backstroke, and Petersen went in the 100 breaststroke.
Other Stars who qualified for state last year were senior Caitlin Martin (50 freestyle, 100 freestyle), sophomore Keely Chavka (200 freestyle, 500 freestyle) and junior Amberlee Query (100 butterfly, 100 backstroke.
Marey also is expecting leadership and points from senior Jessica Franzmann. Other contributors will be Thailand exchange student Na Sairsuwan, sophomores Sarah Youngren, Catie Coursen, Lindsay Dudley, Alanna Hutto, Kristin Siter and Heidi Biggs, and freshmen Stephanie Van Der Sluis and Jessica Steward.
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