Last year, the Soldotna boys swimming team went to the State Swimming and Diving Championships in Anchorage gunning for a state title only to finish as the runner-up, just 19 points behind Dimond.
Something Stars coach Sohail Marey said immediately following the meet bears repeating as peninsula swim programs prepare to kick off their seasons this weekend.
"(This team) has high expectations -- there's nothing wrong with that," Marey said. "Sometimes, you disappoint yourself. That only motivates you to come back stronger."
As the 2000 season starts, Marey said the Soldotna boys have kept their expectations high.
"Our goal is to do good at the state meet," said Marey, who is entering his second year as coach. "That's the only way we can operate."
Although the Stars lost a number of talented swimmers from last year's squad, Marey said most of the team's points at state came from swimmers who return this year.
Leading that pack are seniors Joshua Gemmell and Lucas Petersen. Gemmell was named the boys state swimmer of the year last season after taking the 100-yard freestyle and 100 breaststroke at state.
Meanwhile, Petersen was second in the 200 individual medley and first in the 100 butterfly.
Despite that talent, Marey said the team won't start thinking about state until a few weeks into the season, when times from across the state start to trickle in.
"We don't want to talk about state," Marey said. "We want to see how the places fall, first. We'll see where everybody is after the first meet."
Kenai, Seward, Soldotna and Homer start their seasons Saturday with a quad meet at Homer, while Skyview will start with a diving invitational at Homer on Sept. 8 and a swimming invitational at Homer on Sept. 9.
The following is a closer look at the Kenai Peninsula swim programs.
Third-year head coach Trent Fischer has already taken his team to some pretty impressive heights and they haven't even had a meet yet.
Last weekend, 24 on the Homer swimming team joined Fischer for a trek up Sadie Peak, a 4,600-foot chunk of rock in Kachemak Bay State Park.
Besides offering an impressive view, the climb gave Fischer the good feeling of knowing that the attitude on this year's team should be better than last year, when five kids were dropped from the team due to disciplinary reasons.
Fischer has about 37 swimmers on the team, the most he has ever had.
"We had 17 or 18 turn out for our first morning practice," Fischer said. "The morning practices are optional. Things are going good.
"There's a lot of positive attitudes this year."
Sophomore Ben Kuhns made it to state last season in the 200 individual medley and the 100 backstroke. He was the only Mariners boy to make the trip, so he should lead the team again this year.
Fischer said other key members of the team will be senior Tristan Condon (all strokes), senior Matt Beaumont (all strokes) and senior Wes Kuhns (all strokes).
On the girls side, Fischer said the tremendous amount of work junior Monica Ulmer put forth in the off-season is showing up in practice. Ulmer had a breakthrough season last year for the Mariners and went to state in the 100 breaststroke and 200 individual medley.
The Mariners also return two others who competed at state in individual events last year. Junior Hannah Baechler made it in the 500 freestyle, while senior Erin Pate went in the 100 backstroke. Junior Danielle Duggar went to state on two relays.
Fischer said the girls team is taking a wait-and-see attitude about getting back its region championship. The Mariners were second at regions last year, breaking a three-year winning streak.
Fischer also is looking for big things from five divers, which is the most he has ever had. The divers are senior Chris Calhoun, Wes Buzby, senior Lia Sloth, senior Brittney Gaethle and senior Thai Patton.
Co-coach William Hubler received help from an unexpected place this season because Eleanor Thomson decided to stay through the season to serve as a co-coach.
Thomson spent 13 seasons involved with the Kenai program before moving to Australia at the end of last season. Her intentions then were to leave the Kenai program, but Hubler said she came back on vacation earlier this year and was convinced to extend her vacation through the end of the swim season.
Thomson and Hubler should be able to lavish attention on their swimmers because the Kardinals have just 18 people out for the team.
"It's the smallest team I've ever had," said Hubler, who has been coaching nine or 10 years. "It'll mean a lot of attention for the swimmers."
Key swimmers for the boys team will be senior team captain Devon Anderson (100 backstroke), senior Ben Haring (all strokes), senior Josh Tapley (100 breaststroke), junior Jesse Tapley (breaststroke, freestyle) and junior J.D. Pault.
The girls team should be led by a pair of strong divers. Senior Morgan Hansen was fourth at state last season while breaking Kenai's 11-dive record. Sophomore Rachel Knowles also qualified for state in diving.
In the swimming events, Hubler welcomes back junior Jen Jenkins, who went to state in the 100 butterfly last season. Hubler also is expecting a lot of points this season from junior Marcia Woodard (breaststroke) and sophomore Ruth McConell (long-distance freestyle).
Joanne Wainwright has 21 out for the team, breaking down into a group of 15 girls and six boys. Wainwright said she didn't want to single out any swimmers because all of them are working hard.
"We have some young swimmers and some experienced swimmers," she said. "We should have a pretty solid girls team.
"We're not looking to win regions or anything, but we should have a little bit of depth on the girls side."
Wainwright, who is being assisted by Dillon Kimple, also said she is enjoying working with the team.
"As far as work ethic is concerned, these kids have a great attitude toward practice," she said. "We've got a great group of kids this year."
While the Stars boys, who have won 19 of the past 20 Region III Swimming and Diving Championships, will probably take another region crown, the girls will most likely have a serious fight to maintain their region hardware.
The Soldotna girls won their first region team title in eight years last year, breaking Homer's three-year run.
"Now that we've got it back, our goal is definitely to keep it in our pool," Marey said. "That's the No. 1 goal for the girls. The second goal is to make the top five at state."
Senior captain Kayla Schneider and sophomores Amberlee Query and Jenna Syverson all qualified for state last year in individual events. Query made it in the 200 individual medley and 500 freestyle, Schneider went in the 200 IM and 100 butterfly and Syverson went in the 100 breaststroke and 50 freestyle.
The Stars girls also return Erin Orth, who was second at state last season in diving.
Other key members of the team this year will be senior Emily Daly (long distance), junior Caitlin Martin (50, 100 freestyle), junior Jessica Franzmann (all strokes), sophomore Trisha Ozhuwan (diving), junior Hannah Claire (50, 100 freestyle) and sophomore Tina Wickstrom (100 backstroke, 100 freestyle).
On the boys side, a number of strong swimmers join Gemmell and Peterson. Both senior Blake Schweigert (200 IM, 100 freestyle) and sophomore Ty Schweigert (500 freestyle) made it to state last season, as did senior diver Matt Medina.
Marey also is looking for big things from sophomore Seth Chavka (100 butterfly, 200 IM), Pehr Hartvigson (100 breaststroke), sophomore Nick Sorrell (100 breaststroke, freestyle), senior Ryan Hatfield (100 breaststroke) and sophomore Clayton Harrison (100 backstroke, 100 breaststroke).
Justin Whitmore and junior Roy Hammer also will give Soldotna depth at diving.
Janet VanDriessche's team is low on numbers, but that means the swimmers should be high on attention. The team has six -- three boys and three girls.
"I always tell the kids that they'll learn to swim so well they'll be able to teach their friends and family," VanDriessche said. "I do a lot of technique."
Leading the team this year will be Tara Ganser, a junior who went to state in the 50 freestyle last year, and Jacob Boulden, a breaststroker.
VanDriessche also is expecting a boost from Matteo Bonelli, an exchange student from Italy who is an ocean swimmer.
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