It’s go time.
After nearly three months of practice and meets big and small, the Kenai Peninsula’s high school swim teams are in Palmer this weekend for the Region III swimming and Diving Championships.
“We want the kids to finish on a high note and swim their best times of the year,” said Kenai Central coach Lee Moore. “When you put in that much work in the pool, miles and miles, and all that time, all that technique work and all that drill work, ... we really hope that sets them up for some great individual performances.”
The diving portion of the competition began with preliminary rounds Thursday evening. Swimmers hit the pool for their preliminaries today, and finals in all events are Saturday.
Athletes have set a variety of goals for themselves heading into the meet, from simply finishing the season with their fastest times to earning a spot on the awards podium to making it through to the state championships.
“We’ve got some older kids with some real high aspirations. They’ve got some personal times they want to try to get, and they want to get as many points as they can for the team,” Moore said.
Moore said the Kardinals haven’t set a specific team goal, instead figuring that if each athlete performs well, the team result will work itself out.
“It really is a compilation of a bunch of individual goals that hopefully will work together to put the team in the position of scoring as many points as we can,” Moore said.
Soldotna coach Sohail Marey, on the other hand, said he’s taking a gamble with his team strategy to see if his girls team can slip past powerhouse Homer in the team competition.
Marey said that he’s planning to move two of his swimmers, Lyla Marey and Marit Hartvigson, out of an individual event to strengthen the team’s 400 freestyle relay. While both swimmers would have had a good shot at making the finals in their individual events, Marey said the move gives the team a good chance to win the meet.
“If we do that, and we can win two relays, then there’s a good chance we can beat Homer,” Marey said. “Of course, I’m assuming the other teams take points from Homer and not from us. It’s a very big gamble. If we win regions, I look like a genius. If we don’t, I look like a stupid coach, but I think it’s a chance we need to take, and I’m willing to take it.”
Marey said he had a meeting with his team to discuss the team strategy and added that his swimmers not only were willing to sacrifice personal goals to help the team, but also contributed quite a few ideas to help with the team strategy.
Marey said he expects Eve Green to make it through to the state meet for the Soldotna girls. While the boys team has struggled through illness and injury this season, Marey said Quinn Bennett, Keegan Birchfield and Colin Dudley have been swimming strong.
“We’ve got a group of young swimmers that have really improved quite a bit. Hopefully, they’ll help us. Right now we’re looking at fourth (for the boys). That’s definitely our goal, and it sure would be nice to take a few of them to state,” Marey said.
Moore said his relay team of Landon Mishler, Luke Baumer, Adam DeMello and Chris Hall is very close to breaking the school’s 200 medley and 200 freestyle records, both of which are nearly 20 years old. The quartet set a school record in the 400 freestyle relay at last week’s borough meet.
Moore said the Kardinals would be battling with Homer and Kodiak for the top spot in the boys standings.
“They all know that to be in the top two or three in the region, we’re going to have to have all of our individuals swim well, then hopefully our relays come together,” Moore said.
Moore said diver Andy Knowles also could have a big meet for the Kardinals.
On the girls side, Moore said Amy Jahrig has good chance of advancing to the state meet after recovering from off-season shoulder surgery. Madison Gifford has made quite a bit of improvement in swimming events after focusing on diving for the past few years.
“We also have a lot of young kids that have been working exceptionally hard. They’ve had some great senior leadership, and they’re going into the meet with their focus on what they need to do and not looking at other teams. I hope this meet is a springboard for our younger kids into next year’s season,” Moore said.
Skyview High School also has had some strong performers this season, with Becky Kilfoyle and Megan Risch picking up points for placing at last week’s borough meet. Jacqueline Van Driessche and Megan O’Leary have posted some impressive time for the Seward girls while Jong Kim won the 200 freestyle for the Seward boys at the borough meet.
Still, the depth of the Homer boys and girls could be tough to beat.
“Both the boys and girls have a pretty decent shot at a title. I think it’s possible. I’m very happy with how they’re swimming,” Homer coach Andrew Foley told the Homer News.
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