Early in the school year, Soldotna swimming coach Sohail Marey had his managers put up a number of signs around the SoHi hallways with "#20" written on them.
Soon the signs started to come down.
Curious, Marey investigated who was taking down the signs and eventually found out it was Soldotna principal Sylvia Reynolds.
One day when Reynolds was at the pool, Marey asked why the signs were being taken down.
Reynolds responded that she didn't want a football player hanging his number up in the school. Marey quickly told the principal to count the number of Region III banners the Stars boys swimmers had won since the school opened in 1980.
"After she counted 19, she just laughed," Marey said. "We're looking forward to getting our 20th banner. It's something we're really proud of."
The Region III Swimming and Diving Championships started for five peninsula boys and girls teams Thursday at Palmer High School with the diving preliminaries. The swimming preliminaries will be at 3 p.m. today, while Saturday the swimming and diving finals will begin at 1 p.m.
The Soldotna boys, whose only loss in school history at the region tournament came in 1996 to Palmer, are not expected to be challenged this year.
Marey can count on two victories apiece from seniors Joshua Gemmell and Lucas Petersen, two of the best swimmers in the state. Marey also thinks Nick Sorrell could win both the 500-yard freestyle and the 200 individual medley.
And even if any of the above swimmers falter, Soldotna's tremendous depth should still carry the day. Blake Mann-Schweigert will be a key figure in that depth because he will swim all three relays, each of which is big points.
Others Marey thinks will score points in the region and possibly advance to state are Clayton Harrison, Seth Chavka, Aladean Marey, Ty Mann-Schweigert and diver Matt Medina.
"There's an excitement in the air already," Marey said earlier in the week. "That's good. It makes it a lot easier to coach."
With the region's top spot all but belonging to the Stars boys, the other peninsula schools are battling teams for lower places or fighting to advance individuals to state.
At Kenai Central, coach William Hubler said Ben Haring will be going for state berths and school records in the 50 and 100 freestyle. Hubler also said Devon Anderson and J.D. Pault are state hopefuls.
Homer coach Trent Fischer said his boys will battle Palmer for second place behind Soldotna. Fischer said two boys with excellent chances at state are Ben Kuhns and Jake Bell.
"It's such a guessing game in high school," Fischer said when asked if other kids on his team will make state. "Some events will be stacked with good times, while others won't."
At Seward, Jacob Boulden and Jonah Swiderski got confidence boosters by winning their events at last Saturday's quad meet at Kenai.
On the girls side of the meet, the battle for the team title will be much more interesting. Soldotna ended Homer's three-year reign atop the region last season by winning its first team title in eight years.
The Stars have been consistently on top of the region again this year, but the Lady Mariners did score a dual meet victory over Soldotna earlier in the year.
"The girls are excited about this," Marey said. "They're not ready to give up their championship. They want to bring another championship back to the pool."
Marey sat down and figured out the meet to the best of his ability and said on paper, the Stars should win by about 14 points.
Fischer agreed that Soldotna had the edge, but also said one or two events could change the tide quickly.
"There's always the chance of upsets or disqualifications," Fischer said. "If there's a disqualification in a relay, that's 14 points right there."
Piling up points for Soldotna will be Abby Kiffmeyer, Amberlee Query, Jenna Syverson, diver Erin Orth, Keely Chavka, Caitlan Martin, Emily Daly, Kayla Schneider, Karina Petersen, Sarah Youngren, Jessica Franzmann and Catie Coursen.
Homer will counter with big point-winners Erin Pate, Monica Ulmer, Hannah Baechler, Erica Hendrickson and Renae Rykaczewski.
Kenai Central will be focusing on getting swimmers to state and not the team title. Hubler said his best bets in the swimming events are Jennifer Jenkins and Katherine Amen.
Kenai's Morgan Hansen and Rachel Knowles will compete with Orth and Palmer's Rachell Knapp for the region diving title. Three of those girls were in the top six at state last year, so it should be quite the competition.
"This is the best field of divers I can ever remember seeing at the region meet, and I've been here 10 years," Hubler said. "It's the best diving region in the state this year."
At Skyview, coach Joanne Wainwright said her two state hopefuls are Stephanie Lambe and April Friedly.
Finally, Seward's Tara Ganser showed she could be a threat to go to state by finishing second and third in her events in last weekend's quad meet at Kenai.
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