If the Dimond boys swimming and diving team walks off with its fourth straight title Saturday after the state meet at Bartlett High School in Anchorage, nobody will be able to accuse Soldotna of not learning from its mistakes.
Last year, the Stars boys went to the state meet with high hopes of garnering the second state swimming and diving title in school history.
Soldotna planned to start the meet out with a bang by taking the 200-yard medley relay, an event in which they were seeded first. However, Dimond defeated Soldotna in the event and nearly everything went downhill after that.
"Dimond ended up upsetting us in that relay," Soldotna coach Sohail Marey said. "My team was so deflated. I was having a hard time convincing them that they could still win the meet."
It also didn't help that other teams took away points from some of Soldotna's top swimmers. For example, Lathrop's Hunter McCallister defeated Lucas Petersen in the 200 individual medley, robbing Soldotna of another victory it was counting on.
This year, Marey has changed everything that went wrong in hopes of stopping Dimond's title run.
The state meet, which also has entrants from peninsula schools Homer, Seward, Kenai and Skyview, begins with swimming preliminaries today at 4:30 p.m. On Saturday, diving preliminaries will be at 9 a.m. while diving and swimming finals are at 3 p.m.
The first thing Marey has changed is the team's attitude. This year, there will not be dissatisfaction with anything short of a state title.
"Looking at Dimond, they're so deep it's almost scary," Marey said. "I told my kids we would have to swim the perfect meet to win.
"All we can do is swim our best. Even if we come in second, we've done all that we can do."
Marey also isn't going to take a chance of the 200 medley relay casting doom and gloom over the team again. He has saved his best teams for the 200 freestyle and 400 freestyle relays, which are two of the last four events of the meet.
Also, Petersen will swim the 100 backstroke this year instead of the 200 individual medley. By making the move, Marey is hoping McCallister will take points away from Dimond instead of Soldotna.
Soldotna's success will start with Petersen and fellow senior Joshua Gemmell. Petersen has the top seed times in the 100 butterfly and 100 backstroke, while Gemmell has the top seed times in the 100 freestyle and 100 breaststroke.
"It's a big meet, so both of them should be ready for some awesome times," Marey said. "They could break four school records and one, or maybe two, state records."
Petersen and Gemmell also will swim on the 200 and 400 freestyle relays with Nick Sorrell and Blake Mann-Schweigert. Dimond is seeded ahead of Soldotna in both those relays, but if Soldotna upsets the Lynx in both it could turn the meet.
Mann-Schweigert also will swim the 100 butterfly, while Sorrell also will be in the 100 breaststroke.
Marey said another area where Soldotna could get a nice chunk of points is diving. Senior Matt Medina was leading the Region III meet last week before one bad dive ended up costing him the meet.
"He's really capable of getting in the top three," Marey said.
Other than that, Marey said every point counts. He said that's why Seth Chavka (200 individual medley), Ty Mann-Schweigert (50 freestyle) and Leo Grasso (500 freestyle) are important.
Other boys peninsula swimmers qualifying for state are Homer's 200 medley relay, Homer's Ben Kuhns (200 freestyle, 100 backstroke), Homer's Evan Smith (200 individual medley), Homer's Jake Bell (50 freestyle, 100 freestyle), Kenai's Ben Haring (50 freestyle, 100 freestyle), Kenai's J.D. Pault (100 backstroke), Kenai's Devon Anderson (100 backstroke) and Seward's Jacob Boulden (100 breaststroke).
On the girls side of the meet, several peninsula swimmers have good shots at winning state titles. Homer's Monica Ulmer qualified in the 200 individual medley and the 100 breaststroke. In the breaststroke, she has the top seed time.
"She has a really strong second 50 (yards)," Homer coach Trent Fischer said. "It's not unusual for her to be behind after the first 50."
The Soldotna girls 200 medley relay of Kayla Schneider, Karina Petersen, Abby Kiffmeyer and Jenna Syverson also has a top seed time.
"That relay team will lose just one senior," Marey said. "Things look good for the future."
The peninsula also is putting a handful of very capable divers in the meet in Kenai senior Morgan Hansen, Soldotna senior Erin Orth and Kenai sophomore Rachel Knowles.
"The peninsula should get at least a couple of divers in the top five," Kenai coach William Hubler said. "It's been back-and-forth this year.
"Whoever's feeling it that day will win state."
Other girls peninsula relays will be Homer's 200 medley relay, Soldotna's 200 freestyle relay, Soldotna's 400 freestyle relay and Homer's 400 freestyle relay.
Other girls peninsula athletes will be Soldotna's Keely Chavka (200 freestyle, 500 freestyle), Schneider (200 individual medley, 100 backstroke), Homer's Renae Rykaczewski (200 individual medley, 100 butterfly), Syverson (50 freestyle, 100 freestyle), Soldotna's Caitlin Martin (50 freestyle, 100 freestyle), Seward's Tara Ganser (50 freestyle), Kiffmeyer (100 butterfly, 100 backstroke), Homer's Sarah Christian (100 butterfly), Soldotna's Amberlee Query (100 butterfly, 100 backstroke), Kenai's Jennifer Jenkins (100 butterfly), Skyview's Stephanie Lambe (100 freestyle), Homer's Erika Hendrickson (500 freestyle), Homer's Hannah Baechler (500 freestyle), Homer's Erin Pate (100 backstroke) and Petersen (100 breaststroke).
Peninsula Clarion ©2015. All Rights Reserved.