Time has proven that there is no such thing as a sure thing.
This lesson rang true Saturday night as a heavily favored, high-seeded Soldotna girls swimming team barely managed to get past Service in the final event of the Alaska School Activities Association State Swimming and Diving Championships at Bartlett in Anchorage.
The Stars, who came on like gangbusters to start the meet, took home the first state title ever for the girls program. But not before offering swim fans -- and coach Sohail Marey -- a bit of a scare.
Only 12 points ahead of Service at the beginning of the girls 400-yard freestyle relay, and with fatigued swimmers coming off the previous two individual races, Soldotna needed to place only sixth to claim the state title.
"I was too stressed out," Marey said after the race. "I knew that we wouldn't win (the relay). I told them we needed third."
The relay team finished fifth with a time of 3 minutes, 49.22 seconds, earning eight points to add to its total of 86. That was enough to stave off a rallying Service relay team that won the race in 3:39.30, collecting 18 points for the victory. But that was still 2 points shy of catching Soldotna, which had a total of 94 points to the Cougars' 92.
Marey said he took a gamble with his relay lineups, hoping to collect the majority of his points early.
"I stacked my first two relays," he said. "So I had kids in the (400) who were tired."
Karina Peterson had just completed the 100 breaststroke for a third-place finish before returning for the final race, and Abby Kiffmeyer had been in a race just before Peterson's. Peterson had only minutes after her race before she would join Keely Chavka and Amberlee Query for the relay.
"I sent Karina to go warm down during the boys breaststroke, so she could work some of that lactic acid off of her muscles before the race," Marey said.
Marey said he realized his team had put in a solid workout on the day and he said he was proud of them.
The Stars set the expectations high for themselves Friday by turning in the fastest qualifying times in preliminary heats and starting Saturday off with a runaway victory in the 200 medley relay. The team of Query, Kiffmeyer, Peterson and Jenna Syverson finished in 1:49.93, beating runner-up Dimond team by over two seconds and just missing a state record by four-tenths of a second.
"After the 200 medley relay, we knew this was our day," Syverson said. "We felt so good about our time."
Service was disqualified from the race when senior Brette Winegarner jumped the starter. The Cougars were seeded second and were expected to give the Stars the most competition in that race.
"We wanted to compete against them," Syverson said. "It almost felt like we didn't win."
Syverson also won the 50 freestyle, finished second in the 100 freestyle, and swam on the winning 200 freestyle relay team with Kiffmeyer, junior Keely Chavka and freshman Eve Green.
Kiffmeyer won the 100 butterfly in a tight race against Homer's Renae Rykaczewski. Rykaczewski had the lead by half an arm's length as the swimmers went into the second turn, but Kiffmeyer slowly powered forward to seize the lead in the third quarter of the race.
In the 100 backstroke, however, Kiffmeyer raced to a second-place finish against Service's Winegarner. Winegarner eclipsed her 2000 state record of 58.86 seconds to win in 58.84. Rykaczewski finished the race third.
Kenai senior Rachel Knowles took second in the diving competition, with a total competition score of 322.30. At the end of semifinals on Friday, she was 31.90 points behind Chugiak's Jessica Earp, who would eventually win the state title. Knowles said all of the divers seemed to be struggling during semifinals.
"I don't know what happened," she said. "It seemed like all of us started really tough yesterday."
Knowles said she was able to focus more Saturday, to stick one of her more difficult dives, earning four 6's and three 6.5's out of possible 10's from judges.
"The first one was awesome," she said. "I'm so glad I nailed it."
Her second dive Saturday, a double reverse, did not fare as well. But Knowles said she was just glad that she got it completed correctly.
"I threw it," she said. "That's all I wanted to do. I guess I came out of it too early."
The senior was in tears when she finished her final dive, but said she had mixed emotions about finishing her high school diving career.
"I'm so happy that I'm done," she said. "But, at the same time, I wanted to cry my eyes out.
Marey was named Coach of the Year for the second year in a row. He said he has coached some of his team since they were 7 years old, and said that familiarity with them is an advantage.
"At one point you start to feel when the kid is either ill or stressed out," he said. "You can just look at the way they walk. The kids work with me in the offseason. They come to me for personal advice like they would with their parents."
Because of this familiarity with his team, he said he knew what he could ask of his team, even when they seemed spent.
"These girls stepped it up and they gave me all I asked for," he said.
Syverson and Query will graduate next spring, and Marey said he is happy that they were able to end their high school careers on a winning note.
"Their sophomore year, they finished fourth in state," he said. "Last year, they finished second. It's so fitting for them to finish first this year."
STATE SWIMMING AND DIVING CHAMPIONSHIPS
SWIMMING COACH OF THE YEAR -- Sohail Marey, Soldotna.
DIVING COACH OF THE YEAR -- Alton Saltmarsh, Bartlett.
TEAM SCORES -- 1. Soldotna, 94; 2. Service, 92; 3. Dimond, 67; 4. Lathrop, 61; 5. Juneau-Douglas, Colony, 40 (Tie); 7. Chugiak, 29; 8. Valdez, 23; 9. Homer, 21; 10. East, 19; 11. West, 18; 12. North Pole, 13; 13. Petersburg, 11; 14. Seward, 9; 15. Kenai Central, 7; 16. Skyview, Ketchikan, Ben Eielson, 2 (Tie).
200-YARD MEDLEY RELAY -- 1. Soldotna (Query, Peterson, Kiffmeyer, Syverson), 1:49:93; 2. Dimond, 1:52.57; 3. Valdez, 1:55.71; 4. Juneau-Douglas, 1:57.27; 5. Homer, 1:57.38; 6. Petersbrg, 2:00.69.
200 FREESTYLE -- 1. Felina Rosadiuk, Lath, 1:54.75; 2. Karin Wagner NP, 1:58.82; 3. Catherine Enginbous, Chug, 2:00.54; 4. Keely Chavka, Sol, 2:02.11; 5. Sierra Winegarner, Ser, 2:02.65; 6. Eve Geen, Sol, 2:02.72.
200 INDIVIDUAL MEDLEY -- 1. Sarah Rockwell, West, 2:07.5 (State record, 2:07.70, Sara Fallico, 1991); 2. Elise Long, Col, 2:14.71; 3. Laura Smith, Dim, 2:15.02; 4. Kara Stowell, Lath, 2:16.80; 5. Emily Chandler, Ser, 2:17.38; 6. Kaelan Dickinson, East, 2:19.05.
50 FREESTYLE -- 1. Jenna Syverson, Sol, 24.34; 2. Julianne Fritcher, Serv, 24.52; 3. Rachel Fuller, Dim, 24.77; 4. Sarah Brettrager, Col, 24.80; 5. Jacqueline Van Driessche, Sew; 25.45; 6. Jroin Klawitter, Col, 25.85.
DIVING -- 1. Jessica Earp, Chug, 347.05; 2. Rachel Knowles, Ken, 322.30; 3. Katie Spohnholz, Serv, 321.15; 4. Ashley Preslan, Lath, 299.85; 5. Marnita Coenraad, Jun, 275.80; 6. Jenya Lee, Chug, 198.15.
100 BUTTERFLY -- 1. Abby Kiffmeyer, Sol, 58.45; 2. Renae Rykaczewski, Hom, 1:00.25; 3. Christinia Piakak, Serv, 1:01.44; 4. Brittany Walker, East, 1:02.81; 5. Ashleigh Atkinson, East, 1:03.63; 6. Bronwen Nicholls, Dim, 1:04.94.
100 FREESTYLE -- 1. Sarah Rockwell, West, 51.38 (State Record, 51.51, Emily McCoy, 1999); 2. Brette Winegarner, Serv, 52.89; 3. Jenna Syverson, Sol, 53.19; 4. Sarah Brettrager, Col, 54.47; 5. Sierra Winegarner, Serv, 54.95; 6. Rachel Fuller, Dim, 55.60.
500 FREESTYLE -- 1. Felina Rosadiuk, Lath, 5:08.28; 2. Catherine Engibous, Chug, 5:19.46; 3. Emily Chandler, Serv, 5:26.55; 4. Weather Potdevin, Jun, 5:28.87; 5. Keely Chavka, Sol, 5:30.79; 6. Lisse Focht, Jun, 5:37.25.
200 FREESTYLE RELAY -- 1. Soldotna (Kiffmeyer, Green, Chavka, Syveson), 1:38.99; 2. Service, 1:41.16; 3. Lathrop, 1:42.09; 4. Colony, 1:42.64; 5. Dimond, 1:45.14; 6. Juneau-Douglas, 1:47.06.
100 BACKSTROKE -- 1. Brette Winegarner, Serv, 58.84 (State Record, 58:86, Brette Winegarner, 2000); 2. Abby Kiffmeyr, Sol, 59.58; 3. Renai Rykaczewski, Hom, 1:01.52; 4. Jamie Call, Val 1:01.97; 5. Kelsey Potdevin, Jun, 1:03.46; 6. Julianne Fritcher, Serv, 1:04.05.
100 BREASTSTROKE -- 1. Laura Smith, Di, 1:07. 89; 2. Kaelan, Dickinson, East, 1:08.11; 3. Karina Petersen, Sol, 1:10.08; 4. Jacqueline Van Driessche, Sew, 1:10.38; 5. Carole Triem, Pal, 1:10.43; 6. Kara Stowell, Lath, 1:10.49.
400 FREESTYLE RELAY -- 1. Service (B. Winegarner, S. Winegarner, K. Fritcher, Chandler), 3:39.30; 2. Lathrop, 3:41.90; 3. Dimond, 3:43; 4. Colony, 3:47.74; 5. Soldotna, 3:49.22; 6. Juneau-Douglas, 3:50.83.
FEMALE SWIMMER OF THE YEAR -- Sarah Rockwell, West.
FEMALE DIVER OF THE YEAR -- Jessica Earp, Chug.
FEMALE OUTSTANDING COMPETITOR -- Sarah Rockwell, West.
GIRLS SPORTSMANSHIP AWARD -- Soldotna.
GIRLS ACADEMIC AWARD -- West (4.0 cummulative team GPA).
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