As the swimming season nears its midpoint with this Friday's SoHi Pentathlon, the Kodiak boys are in good position to repeat their Region III title while the Soldotna girls will have a fight on their hands if they wish to win a sixth straight region crown.
At this year's Homer Invitational, which includes all of Region III's teams, the Kodiak boys swam around the competition. The Homer boys, which won region titles in 2001 and 2002, lost to the Bears by 39 points. The Soldotna boys, which took their 20th region title in 21 attempts in 2000, were 48 points behind the Bears.
"I think it's going to be pretty darn tough to catch them," Homer coach Andrew Foley said of the Bears. "A lot of cards would have to fall in the right place for us to beat them at regions or state."
On the girls side, the Homer girls won the Homer Invitational with 80 points, while Colony had 78 points and Soldotna had 64.5 points.
Foley said his team should be considered the favorites for regions.
"We've got real good depth, and high-quality depth," Foley said.
Soldotna coach Sohail Marey said his squad, which is rebuilding with some younger swimmers, has not given up hope of a sixth straight title.
"We have a chance to beat them, but it's going to be a hard task," Marey said. "We can still beat them. We have to keep that in mind."
The following is a closer look at the swimming teams on the Kenai Peninsula:
Foley, who has coached previously in Anchorage and Fairbanks, takes over the Homer program this year. His assistant is Anita Harry.
The coach is happy to have a group of 40 kids swimming. He notes that number is almost 10 percent of the student body at Homer.
The boys squad, which has nine members, will be led by senior captain Jamey Smith in the butterfly and backstroke, junior Kevin Wythe in the individual medley, butterfly and freestyle, junior Anthony Augusto in freestyle, freshman Brian Ritchie in the butterfly and breaststroke and junior John Brennand-Sheffler in the backstroke and breaststroke.
Smith and Wythe both qualified for state last year.
On the girls side, Foley has three individual state qualifiers back. Sophomore Lauren Bell has the team record in the 50 freestyle, junior Deannie Andree is solid in the butterfly and backstroke and junior Rhonwen Jennings is good at the breaststroke and distance events.
Foley also expects big points from freshman Jorden Greiner in the butterfly, breaststroke and individual medley, and from sophomores Nyssa Baechler and Abbie Marrale in the 500 freestyle.
KENAI CENTRAL KARDINALS
The numbers are up this season at Kenai for coaches Lee Moore and Pam Moore and diving coach Rachel Knowles. Lee Moore said there are 28 swimmers this year, up about eight from last year. Moore said that with so many swimmers, the Kards also are grateful for behind-the-scenes help from Will Hubler.
The boys team will be led by juniors Luke Baumer and Landon Mishler, who are both good at sprinting and the breaststroke.
Moore also is encouraged by sophomore newcomers Christopher Hall and Adam DeMello. Hall has already shown promise, while DeMello used to be a member of the Peninsula Piranhas Swim Club.
Kenai also has gotten a boost from sophomores Brian Moon and Ben Phillips, a pair of freestylers that have shown huge improvement since last year.
The team gets added depth from Ronny Miller, Craig Jameson, Billy Ritchie, Bryan Roten and Daniel Kaser. Sophomore Andy Knowles also dives for the Kardinals.
The large number of boys swimmers gives Kenai an advantage in smaller meets, even allowing the Kards to top Soldotna in some meets early in the season.
The girls team will be led by senior Kelsey Dunn in the freestyle and breaststroke and senior Amanda Keen in any stroke.
The Kardinals also have a solid crop of juniors in Kendra Remsen in the butterfly, Madison Gifford in swimming and diving, Meggie Steinbeck in breaststroke and Haley Mishler in freestyle.
Amy Jahrig, Kenai's only state qualifier last year, heads up Kenai's sophomores. Jahrig qualified for state in the 100 backstroke.
Other sophomores are the versatile Taylor Moore, backstroker Mercedes Hughes, breaststroker Hannah Watkins and newcomers Kari Frates and Candace Walker.
The freshman class is made up of Samantha Barton in the freestyle and butterfly, Jamie Dunn in the freestyle, Adrianna Garcia in the freestyle and breaststroke, Haily Strickon in all strokes and Rebecca Gilman in the freestyle and butterfly.
Moore said coaching has been great this year, with great support from principal Dennis Dunn and the booster club.
"It's been an absolute pleasure to go into the pool and work with these kids," Moore said.
Coach Janet Van Driessche once again has a small squad of five swimmers, but also a team loaded with talent.
At the top of that list is junior Jacqueline Van Driessche, who won the 100 breaststroke at state last year and nearly pulled off a title in the 50 freestyle.
Sophomore Jong Kim also qualified for state last year in the 50 and 100 freestyle.
Van Driessche also has progressing swimmers in sophomores Malie Sutphin and Tekla Backlund and junior Alisha Friel.
All five swimmers also will be learning to dive this year, thanks to new diving coach Jessica Jouppi.
Skyview coach Dennis Reger is in his third season at the helm of the Panthers. He is assisted by Michelle Turinsky.
There are 18 Panthers in the pool this year. Reger said he wouldn't mind having 10 more swimmers out.
With that lack of depth, Reger said the focus is on having individuals improve and on possibly getting a few swimmers through to state. Skyview did not have a state qualifier last year.
The boys team has five swimmers: junior Nolan Schmidt in the 50 and 100 freestyle, senior Merrick Jackinsky in the individual medley and butterfly, sophomore Alex Rodgers in the 200 and 500 freestyle, junior J.M. Revis in the 100 breaststroke and 50 and 100 freestyle, and senior diver Brian Hibberd.
Reger said with only five guys out, he will have to make the tough choice between focusing on relays or individual events.
The girls team has more depth, headed up by senior Vanessa Williams in the individual medley, senior Maia Matarrese in the 100 butterfly and 100 freestyle, senior Kendra Lucas in the 100 butterfly, junior Sarah Clinton in the 200 and 500 freestyle and sophomore Megan Risch in the butterfly and breaststroke.
Reger also gets a nice injection of youth in freshman Miranda Pollard, a talented butterflier, and freshman Christina Strange, a solid sprinter.
Junior Becky Kilfoyle, a freestyler, and junior Jenny Andrus, a diver, add depth for Skyview. Finally, Reger likes the improvement he has seen in junior Chrystal Boehmler and senior Angela Woodward.
Coach Sohail Marey has 32 swimmers out for the team. He said he would like to have a number higher in the 30s.
The girls team has three members that qualified for state in individual events last year. Junior Eve Green went in the 100 and 200 freestyle and juniors Sasha Porter and Tory Coursen went in diving. Junior captain Adrienne Marey also swam on relay teams at state.
Marey also expects freshman freestyler Lyla Marey and sophomore backstroker Marit Hartvigson to lead the team to a lot of points.
Senior Kristin Habighorst, juniors Ashley Brandon, Mabel Marinkovski and Allie Schoessler, sophomore Jenni Stenga and freshmen MacKenzie McAchran and Hannah Haupt also will provide key points as the Stars look to defend their region crown.
Marey also sees a lot of potential in senior Natasha Segwin, juniors Ernie Donaldson, Lisa Orth, April Michaelson and Maricella Sanchez, sophomores Lydia Ames, Amy Hundertmark and Dana Haddox and freshman Shyan Ely. The coach also likes what he has seen from sophomore diver Sarah Shoemaker.
The boys team will be led by Nathan Grabowksi, the only returner who qualified for state in an individual event. Grabowski qualified in the 200 freestyle and 100 butterfly and Marey said he is a versatile swimmer.
Junior captain Keegan Birchfield, senior Josh Barsis and freshman Colin Dudley assure that Soldotna will be competitive in at least two relays.
Marey has a number of divers on the boys team, led by junior Dustin Mariman. Other divers are junior Shane Peterson, sophomores Kevin Rigby and Tom Wyatt and freshman Garrett Mayer. Marey said that with the lack of boys out for the team, the divers will start seeing time swimming.
Marey also said new swimmer Isaac Chatham, a junior, could help the relays.
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