After Soldotna sophomore Winter Heaven took fourth in the 100-yard butterfly at last season's state swimming and diving championships, Stars coach Sohail Marey left little wiggle room as to whether or not Heaven would someday become a state champion.
"I have no doubt he'll be a state champion," Marey said at the time.
He's still not backing off that stance as Heaven is set to compete in both the 100 butterfly and 200 individual medley at the state competition today and Saturday at Bartlett High School in Anchorage.
It could be challenging for Heaven to capture a crown this season, considering his best time in the butterfly is 53.50, set when he captured a championship in last weekend's Region III meet. The state's top time of 50.56 belongs to Juneau-Douglas' Cody Brunette.
"More realistic is second or third, but it's going to be a good test after a good taper," Marey said of having lighter workouts during the week. "I have no doubt that he'll do better, but my question is how better?"
Marey said Heaven's goal this season was to break 51 seconds at the state meet, something he can certainly achieve, although whether it earns him a title remains to be seen.
A new goal will be set next season, though.
"Next year we will be having as a goal to win state," Marey said. "Being a sophomore, any top three places is going to be good. Of course a champion is always better.
"We're trying to have that target as a junior year more than a sophomore," he added. "It's never bad to have it any earlier."
Heaven's test in the 200 IM is a bit more formidable, as Dimond's Matt Summer's time of 1:59.85 is nearly five seconds faster than Heaven's top time of 2:04.75, one he set when he won regions last weekend.
"Winter did not have a very fast swimmer next to him in the 200 IM. So, with someone as fast as that kid from Dimond, he'll definitely go faster, the question is can he beat him?" Marey said. "He swims better and faster when someone is swimming next to him. In regions, the next swimmer was like 5 yards behind him."
Heaven isn't the only Star chasing a state title this weekend.
Olivia Bowen (200 IM, 100 butterfly), Randi Freestone (100 breaststroke), Michaela Shirnberg (100 breaststroke) and Cody Tate (1-meter diving) are also traveling to Bartlett in search of a spot on the podium.
Marey said Bowen didn't swim her best in the 200 IM at regions, although she did hit 2:18.25 two weeks ago at a meet in Palmer. It will still be difficult to win, however, considering East High's Samantha Wicks boasts the best time of 2:11.54.
"That's just a great time," Marey said, adding he hopes Bowen can break 2:18 and earn a medal.
Bowen's best time in the 100 butterfly is 1:00.75, more than a second behind Service's Margaret Adams.
"She might end up surprising some people and I'm hoping she will," he said of Bowen's chances.
As for Freestone and Shirnberg, placing in the top six would be an accomplishment because Kodiak's Laura Griffin owns a time of 1:09.81 and the SoHi tandem is around 1:13.
Marey said its difficult to say where Tate could finish.
"Diving is just so hard to predict," he explained. "Swimming they might have an off day a kid might be a second or a second-and-a-half slower in a particular event. But in diving if your having an off day, you could lose 50 to 60 points really fast.
"There's some subjectivity when it comes to judges. Some regions might be scoring higher ... than others. If he gets in the top eight I'll be very happy."
Kenai also is sending a trio of swimmers in Anders Nyquist (200 freestyle, 100 butterfly), Dylan Wannamaker (50 freestyle, 100 backstroke) and Olivia Pfeifer (200 freestyle, 500 freestyle).
Wannamaker last year was the lone Kardinal to advance to the second day of competition and set a then-personal best time (57.31) in finishing seventh in the 100 backstroke.
Homer has a slew of competitors in Will Anderson (100 breaststroke), Richard Ginter (200 IM, 100 butterfly), Garrett Hall (1-meter diving), Michael McNulty (100 breaststroke), John Roedl (200 freestyle, 500 freestyle), Jaclyn Arndt (100 butterfly, 200 medley relay, 200 freestyle relay), Sara Bitterman (200 freestyle relay), Iris Fletcher (500 freestyle, 200 medley relay, 200 freestyle relay), Grace Harrison (200 medley relay, 200 freestyle relay), Donna McNulty (500 freestyle, 100 breaststroke, 200 medley relay), Dana Olesch (200 medley relay, 200 freestyle relay), Marie Schmidt (200 IM, 500 freestyle, 200 medley relay, 200 freestyle relay), Lindsey Seneff (1-meter diving), Katherine Spence (200 medley relay, 200 freestyle relay) and Saanti Steyer (200 medley relay, 200 freestyle relay).
Harrison and Steyer were both members of last year's state-qualifying 200 medley relay, 200 freestyle relay and 400 freestyle relay teams and Arndt was included in the 200 freestyle and 400 freestyle squads.
Michael McNulty and Roedl also were members of last year's qualifying 400 freestyle relay team. None of those relay teams placed, though.
Seward's Nick Broughton (100 breaststroke), Ryan O'Leary (50 freestyle, 100 butterfly) and Meghan O'Leary (100 backstroke) also are competing.
As a freshman last season, Ryan O'Leary finished eighth in the 50 freestyle.
"Next year I want to be in the top five in the 50," he said following last year's meet.
Marey believes the Juneau-Douglas and Service boys and girls teams will contend for titles, as will the Wasilla boys, who claimed a region crown last weekend.
"A powerhouse really," he said of the Crimson Bears.
Matthew Carroll can be reached at email@example.com.
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