Last season, Soldotna High School swimming and diving coach Sohail Marey took a look at the seed times and concluded that his squads had a decent chance to win team titles at the state swimming and diving championships.
The Stars came through, backing up their coach's prediction with a girls state championship and a tie for the boys state crown.
This year, Marey concedes that his squad just doesn't have the depth to repeat as champions, but that doesn't mean the Stars don't have high expectations.
"We're very realistic. It's very hard to come up with championships back to back," Marey said. "Our goal is to be in the top five, hopefully the top three. There are some very good programs out there.
"... With winning state and our tradition of winning regions, many people think we have a huge, deep team. We don't, but we do have a number of strong swimmers."
Competition begins Friday at Bartlett High School in Anchorage with swimming and diving preliminaries. Finals begin Saturday at 1 p.m.
Indeed, powerhouse programs such as Anchorage's Service, Fairbanks' Lathrop and Juneau-Douglas appear to be favorites for the state team titles.
While Soldotna doesn't have the sheer numbers of the larger programs Service has 83 swimmers and divers on the roster compared to 32 for the Stars those that are making the trip to the state meet for Soldotna are very competitive.
Leading the Soldotna girls will by Abby Kiffmeyer, who will look to defend her state title in the 100-yard butterfly and perhaps add one more in the backstroke.
Joining Kiffmeyer in the pool for individual events will be teammates Eve Green, who qualified in the 200 and 100 freestyle events, Catie Coursen (500 freestyle) and Karina Petersen (100 breaststroke). Tory Coursen and Sasha Porter will represent the Stars in the 1-meter diving event after their first- and second-place finishes, respectively, at the region championships.
The Soldotna girls also will swim the 200 medley relay and the 400 freestyle relay.
The Soldotna boys have three swimmers qualified for the individual competition, though each will swim two events. Nathan Grabowski will tackle to 200 freestyle and 100 butterfly, Aladean Marey will swim the 100 butterfly and 100 backstroke, and Leo Grasso will swim the 100 freestyle and 100 backstroke.
The Soldotna boys also qualified all three relays.
"We're looking forward to an exciting meet at state," Marey said. "We are the state champions until we are dethroned."
The Homer High School girls also could be poised for a good showing with six athletes qualified in individual events.
Renae Rykaczewski (200 individual medley, 100 backstroke), Rhiannon Jennings (200 individual medley, 100 butterfly) and Lauren Bell (50 freestyle, 100 freestyle) will each swim two events while Deannie Andree (50 freestyle), Molly Mahan (100 breaststroke) and Rhonwen Jennings (100 breaststroke) each qualified in one event. The Homer girls also will swim the 200 medley relay and the 400 freestyle relay.
Three Homer boys qualified for the meet: Kevin Wythe (200 individual medley, 500 freestyle), Daryl Wythe (50 freestyle, 100 freestyle), and Jamey Smith (100 butterfly, 100 backstroke).
Also from the peninsula, Amy Jahrig will represent Kenai Central, swimming the girls 100 backstroke.
Finally, the Seward Seahawks will send two athletes to the meet. Jacqueline Van Driessche will compete in the girls 50 freestyle and 100 breaststroke while Jong Kim will swim in the boys 50 and 100 freestyle events.
Homer Girls: 200 medley relay; 400 freestyle relay; Renae Rykaczewski (200 individual medley, 100 backstroke); Rhiannon Jennings (200 individual medley, 100 butterfly); Deannie Andree (50 freestyle); Lauren Bell (50 freestyle, 100 freestyle); Molly Mahan (100 breaststroke); Rhonwen Jennings (100 breaststroke). Boys: Kevin Wythe (200 individual medley, 500 freestyle); Daryl Wythe (50 freestyle, 100 freestyle); Jamey Smith (100 butterfly, 100 backstroke).
Kenai Central Girls: Amy Jahrig (100 backstroke).
Seward Girls: Jacqueline Van Driessche (50 freestyle, 100 breaststroke). Boys: Jong Kim (50 freestyle, 100 freestyle).
Soldotna Girls: 200 medley relay; 400 freestyle relay; Eve Green (200 freestyle, 100 freestyle); Sasha Porter (1-meter diving); Tory Coursen (1-meter diving); Abby Kiffmeyer (100 butterfly, 100 backstroke); Catie Coursen (500 freestyle); Karina Petersen (100 breaststroke). Boys: 200 medley relay; 200 freestyle relay; 400 freestyle relay; Nathan Grabowski (200 freestyle, 100 butterfly); Aladean Marey (100 butterfly, 100 backstroke); Leo Grasso (100 freestyle, 100 backstroke).
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