After finishing seventh at state in the 100-yard freestyle last year, Soldotna's Lyla Marey said she couldn't wait to begin her offseason training program so she could make it to the big show again this year.
Marey's offseason training paid off at the Region III meet on Saturday in Soldotna, where she cruised into the state meet by winning the 50 and 100 freestyle. Now she has a chance to get even more mileage out of that training, as she is ranked amongst the top swimmers in the state in the 50 and 100 freestyle.
The state meet begins today at Bartlett High School in Anchorage with swimming and diving preliminaries. On Saturday, the swimming and diving finals begin at 1 p.m.
"She's tough. She's looking forward to the weekend," Soldotna coach Sohail Marey said of his senior daughter. "She likes challenges."
It will be a challenge for Marey to win a state title in either of her events. In the 50 freestyle, Marey's seed time of 24.91 seconds puts her behind the 24.29 of Juneau's Sara Bogert and the 24.78 of Service's Erin McDuffie.
Sohail Marey said his daughter does not face an impossible deficit because of the magnitude of the event.
"For someone in the regular season, that would be a lot," Marey said. "In a big meet, anyone can drop."
In the 100 freestyle, Marey is seeded fifth with her time of 54.68. Dimond's Yana Garvey leads the pack with a seed time of 53.81.
"She does have a mental edge in that one," Marey said. "In the region meet, she did not wear her fast suit."
The coach said that a fast suit can make a big difference in the 100 freestyle. Lyla Marey also should get a bit of a boost as her coach lets up on her workouts as the state meet approaches.
"Shaved, rested, and with a fast suit, she's got a shot at it," Marey said.
Homer senior Brian Ritchie also is looking to end his prep swimming career with a bang. Last season, Ritchie finished third at state in the 100 butterfly. This year, his seed time of 53.59 puts him second, just behind the 53.56 of Juneau's Cody Brunette.
"I'm going to try to pull out a win there (at state)," Ritchie, who also qualified in the individual medley, told the Homer News.
Ritchie and Marey, who were both named the region swimmers of the year on Saturday, have the best shots of any peninsula swimmers of earning a state crown. Some swimmers have the opportunity to lay the groundwork for future state success, though.
Soldotna freshman Winter Heaven has the fourth-fastest seed time in the 100 butterfly. That is made all the more incredible by the fact that Marey said that Heaven has just two years of swimming under his belt.
"He still has a lot to improve," Marey said. "He'll be someone to be reckoned with. He'll be the person people want to try and beat."
Marey said Olivia Bowen is a young swimmer that is just starting to believe she can compete with top swimmers. Marey said Bowen has a shot at making the finals in the 100 butterfly and 100 backstroke. Marey also said Randi Freestone and Michaela Shirnberg will need strong swims to make the finals in the 100 breaststroke.
The coach also said senior Colin Dudley has a good shot at capping his career by making the finals in the 100 backstroke. Marey said Dudley has been held back by a shoulder injury this year, but also said Dudley likes to compete and he should be up for the big meet.
Soldotna also made it to state with the girls 200 medley and 200 freestyle relays, and the boys 200 medley relays.
Kenai Central coach Lee Moore is excited to have three swimmers at the state meet. Dylan Wannamaker qualified in the 100 backstroke, Anders Nyquist qualified in the 100 butterfly and Freddie John qualified in the 100 breaststroke.
Moore said Wannamaker, a sophomore, had just broken a minute in the 100 backstroke before the region meet, but at the region meet he hit 58s twice.
"He's a competitor," Moore said of Wannamaker. "This is where you find out if they're big meet swimmers or not. This is as big as they come in the state of Alaska."
The top 16 times in the state qualify for state, and Moore said John got into the breaststroke with the 16th-fastest time.
"This gives him one more week to swim, and he really works hard in practice," Moore said. "He's someone that is not afraid to hurt in practice."
Nyquist, according to Moore, made a few little improvements in his stroke heading into the region meet. Those improvements put his butterfly time under a minute for the first time on Friday, then on Saturday he swam 58.56.
"Man, I was just shocked," Moore said.
Homer also will be represented at state by Will Anderson in the 100 breaststroke, Jaclyn Arndt in the 200 and 500 freestyle, Donna McNulty in the 500 freestyle, Michael McNulty in the 100 breaststroke, John Roedl in the 500 freestyle and Saanti Steyer in the 100 freestyle.
Seward will be represented at state by Kenny Audette in the 200 individual medley and 100 breaststroke, Meghan O'Leary in the 100 backstroke and Ryan O'Leary in the 50 and 100 freestyle.
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