Christopher Hall brought a lot to the table.
The former standout swimmer from Kenai Central owned five individual records, three team records and three relay records. He also exhibited an exorbitant amount of drive and leadership that's tough to come by.
With Hall lost to graduation, however, Kardinals' coach Lee Moore is now looking for a replacement.
And he thinks he's found one the entire team.
"Big shoes to fill when you lose Chris Hall," Moore said. "He just had a phenomenal work ethic and just brought everyone else along with him. It might take a team to step in and fill that void."
Moore believes Hall and others gone to graduation including Taylor Moore, Hannah Watkins and four-time state qualifier Amy Jahrig instilled their high levels of motivation into other returners.
"That's really all you can ask for. You can wish your life away hoping and wishing that you were as well as somebody else, but really you've only got yourself to compete with and that's all you can do is try to get better every single time," he explained. "We preach that all the time. The kids really buy into it.
"They understand that you can want to be a lot faster, but you're given the body that you have, you're given the strength that you have, you're given that mind that you have and that's what you have to work with," Moore added. "So, let's go make the most of it. And they're all doing it."
Leading the 28-member team, up from roughly 21 last season, is Dylan Wannamaker, the squad's lone state returner in the backstroke.
"He hasn't had a chance to swim a lot this summer. He's been working real hard doing some other stuff," Moore said. "But when he gets back in the water and gets going we're hoping to see some good things from him."
Other returners include Anders Nyquist, Billy Ritchie, Gradey Iverson, Freddie John and Alex Sonnichsen, who Moore said could develop into one of the stronger team leaders.
"He's really kind of taken the lead and taken it upon himself to make sure that work ethic gets taken care of in practice," he said. "He's really working hard. That's nice to see."
On the girls side, returner Lee Ann Majiera has beautiful stroke technique, according to Moore, and is working on becoming a stronger swimmer while returning senior Rebecca Gilman is stepping into a major leadership role herself.
"(Gilman's) really is not afraid of hard work in practice. It's great to see her to try to lead the other girls that are around, to really try to encourage them on," Moore said. "She is a very diplomatic leader. She's a wonderful one to have on the team."
With four returning state qualifiers, Stars' coach Sohail Marey has high hopes for the 2007 season.
"It would be nice if we have the whole trophy in there or banners," Marey said of region titles. "The girls, I believe, have a greater shot than the boys, but if the boys put it together and we have a good strategy going into regions, we have a shot at it."
Captained by senior state qualifier Lyla Marey, it's understandable why he has such lofty expectations.
"That's what they wanted. That's their goal for the year, to win regions," coach Marey said, "and the other goal is to hopefully take 10 swimmers to state."
Along with Lyla Marey, Randi Freestone is also expected to advance to the state competition again.
It's the youngsters, though, who could determine how far this team can go.
Freshman Olivia Bowen is coming off her best time ever in the 100-yard backstroke and Kristina Truesdell also won 200 freestyle at the same home tri-meet.
Senior Colin Dudley, fresh off a state appearance, will anchor a boys team that also includes state qualifier Forrest Eissler (400 IM, 100 breaststroke), Michael Pugh and Daniel Speegle.
Another newcomer, freshman Winter Heaven, recently set new personal bests in both the 200-yard individual medley and the 500-yard freestyle.
"Winter Heaven and Olivia Bowen are definitely key for us," coach Marey said. "They both will be making state."
Despite already capturing boys and girls' victories in their first two home meets of the season, he said a lot will be determined at the Homer Invite today and Saturday.
"The next meet in Homer will be a test for us because most of the region teams will be there and that will really give us a good picture as to where we are at the region level," coach Marey explained. "We don't know Kodiak and Wasilla yet. They are going to be a key for us and hopefully this coming weekend we'll find out what they have."
In her first year at the helm, Angie Brown is looking to spread the word about swimming in hopes of increasing the numbers for years to come.
"We have a lot of new ones that haven't been around the sport and haven't done the club swimming," she said, adding they have 17 swimmers, down from about 21 last year. "I'm trying to make it real fun this year to get the word out that's it not competitive that much. It's more fun and just beat your own time, not the person next to you."
Led by seniors Krissy Strange (diving, 500 freestyle), Kari Daly (500 freestyle, 100 breaststroke) and Miranda Pollard (100 breaststroke, 100 backstroke), Brown is just hoping to improve upon last season.
"We didn't have anyone make finals at regions last year," she said. "So, my goal is hopefully make finals this year."
Two of the four boys on the team, Brandon Jones and Ryan McMaster, both newcomers, are holding their own already, she said.
At this point, though, it's more about getting most of them into the water.
"Getting them in and up on the blocks and when we just learned to dive last week, getting them off the blocks and diving is a big step."
Veteran coach Janet VanDriessche has only nine swimmers out for the team this year.
All of them, however, are dynamic, dedicated and striving to achieve at a top-tier level.
"There's potential and good team camaraderie. I'm real happy with this group," she said. "I always have people going to state. I don't expect it to be any different."
Returners include Kenny Audette (breaststroke, freestyle, 200-yard individual medley), Taylor Seaver (50, 100-yard freestyle), Meghan O'Leary (backstroke, freestyle, butterfly) and Serena Melville (freestyle, butterfly, backstroke).
Freshman Ryan O'Leary (50, 100-yard freestyle, butterfly, breaststroke) is already placing first in everything he swims, VanDreissche said.
Other newcomers include freshmen Sam Werner (freestyle, butterfly), Lilla Hedrick (freestyle, breaststroke), junior Grace Hawkins (butterfly, backstroke, freestyle) and Laure Bellivier, a senior from Switzerland who competes in the backstroke, freestyle and butterfly.
VanDriessche expects the numbers to grow as the year moves on.
"I usually start out with less than this," she said. "It will increase when football is over and cross country."
With roughly 30 kids out for the team, smaller than last year, coach Thad Gunther is seeking a strong season out of the defending Kenai Peninsula Borough champions.
"Me personally, I think this is a good year for them to break out, to get out of their comfort zone," Gunther told the Homer News. "You can't be racing the same people all the time."
Seniors Brian Ritchie, Jorden Greiner and Jennifer Bitterman have been pushed by a large junior class along with some strong freshmen and sophomores.
"I tell them if you put in the effort, anyone can beat a champion," Gunther said.
Other swimmers include Jaclyn Arndt, Grace Harrison, Saanti Steyer and John Roedl.
Information on Homer was obtained from the Homer News.
Matthew Carroll can be reached at email@example.com.
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