By land, air and sea, the Kenai Peninsula's five swim teams will travel to Valdez for the Region III swimming and diving championships on Friday and Saturday.
Kenai Central and Seward will journey to the Prince William Sound community via ferry. Homer will arrive on a chartered plane. And Soldotna and Skyview are sharing a bus with DVD players, bathrooms and tables.
Welcome to prep sports in Alaska.
Once the teams arrive, the only form of transportation that will matter is the freestyle, breaststroke, butterfly and backstroke.
On the girls side of the meet, peninsula coaches like Kodiak to defend its title. The boys meet should be a nip-and-tuck affair between Kodiak and Wasilla. The Bears have won four of the last five region titles.
"If Wasilla makes one mistake, Kodiak might take the boys and girls," Soldotna coach Sohail Marey said.
"But I'm guessing the Wasilla boys."
Both the Soldotna girls and boys have made off with plenty of region hardware in the past, but Marey said this year's team is still a little young to be region champions.
"Many of them are looking forward to next year," he said. "They'll definitely be stronger next year. I'm very happy with what they did.
"By the second week, I knew it would be hard for the boys and girls to win the region this year."
Marey said Winter Heaven, Olivia Bowen, Randi Freestone and Michaela Shirnberg are good bets to return to state this season in individual events.
The winner of each event automatically earns a berth at state. The next 12 best times statewide are then taken to fill out the pool of 16.
Marey wants to send a few more swimmers to state via the relays. Region champion relay teams automatically qualify for state. Then, the next four best relays statewide are selected.
For the boys, Garrett Byerley, Mark Youngren and Austin Whitaker will join Heaven for the 200-yard medley and 200 free relays.
For the girls, Sarah Rife will join Bowen, Freestone and Shirnberg for the 200 medley and 200 freestyle relays. Marey also said he would like to see diver Cody Tate make state.
Skyview coach Angie Brown said Ryan McMaster, in the 50 and 100 freestyles, has the best shot of any Skyview swimmer of qualifying for state.
"It's a flip of the coin," she said. "It depends who else is swimming it. He definitely needs to have his best race."
In addition, Brown would like to see Colin Murray and Paris Cooper qualify to swim in the finals or consolation finals on Saturday.
Like Brown, Kenai Central coach Jim Barkman would like to see all of his swimmers post personal-best times. Dylan Wannamaker, Anders Nyquist and Freddie John all will be seeking return trips to state.
Homer will fly 30 swimmers to Valdez. Coach Thaddaeus Gunther said with a good meet, his girls could finish second.
"We've got a lot of kids on the edge of going to state," Gunther said.
On the boys side, John Roedl, Will Anderson and Michael McNulty are seeking return trips to state. Gunther said it'd be nice if Will's brother, Jack, also would earn a trip to state.
Other boys with a chance to extend their season by a week are Kyle Wentz, Alder Fletcher and Richard Ginter.
On the girls side, Jaclyn Arndt, Donna McNulty and Saanti Steyer all are looking to repeat state-qualifying performances from a year ago. Senior Grace Harrison also has a chance to earn her fourth trip to state.
Other girls with a chance at state are Marie Schmidt, Katie Spence and Dana Olesch.
Gunther also said the Mariners could qualify a number of relays for state.
Seward coach Janet Van Driessche said, as long as the waters on the way to Valdez are not too rough, her team also should have some state qualifiers.
Sophomore Ryan O'Leary and senior Meghan O'Leary both can earn return trips to state.
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