A season’s worth of hard work will be put to the test this weekend as the top prep swimmers and divers will converge in Anchorage to battle for gold, silver and bronze at the Alaska School Activities Association state championship meet.
The two-day state championship meet at the Bartlett High School pool will begin today with swimming preliminaries at 1 p.m. and diving preliminaries at 3:30 p.m.
Saturday’s day of finals begin at 1 p.m.
Some teams, such as Region III champions Kodiak, are bringing enough athletes to state to rival the size of other schools’ entire squads. The Bears are taking 23, most of any school in the state. Behind Kodiak, the other schools bringing large contingents of swimmers are Dimond (22), Colony (21), South (20) and West Valley (18).
Leading Soldotna is coach Lucas Petersen, a former state champion swimmer himself. Petersen won five individual state titles in three years competing for Soldotna about 15 years ago.
Petersen’s pre-region goal of getting “eight to 10” swimmers to state, along with four relays, panned out perfectly.
Soldotna is taking the most athletes among Peninsula schools with 17 total, including alternates. Nine of those swimmers are locked in with starting preliminary spots.
Among other Peninsula teams, the Homer Mariners finished off the season strong by getting five athletes to state, while Kenai Central is bringing three and Seward is taking one.
After punching his ticket to state last weekend with a win in the boys 50 free, Soldotna junior David Hall said Petersen’s own experience has helped the team confirm belief in what he teaches.
“He watches us and if he tells you to do something, he obviously knows what he’s talking about,” Hall said after his race Saturday.
Alex Weeks may represent Soldotna’s best shot to win a state race, which would break a long drought. The last SoHi swimmer to claim a state championship was Abby Kiffmeyer in 2003.
Weeks enters the state meet ranked third in both of her individual events — the girls 50-yard freestyle and the 100 freestyle. Last year, she finished second in the shorter race by a scant .03 seconds.
SoHi’s Megan English is also riding a hot streak. The senior swimmer qualified to state on the strength of two region victories, taking the girls 100 butterfly and the 100 backstroke — the same two events in which she has qualified to state for three consecutive years. English is ranked third in the state in the backstroke.
“It feels great,” English said Saturday after her races. “I’m so excited, this is my last year, so I just wanna give it all I have.”
Teammate Rachel Henry qualified to state in the girls 500 free and the 100 breaststroke. Henry made it to the state final in the latter event a year ago. Additionally, Claire McElroy (100 breaststroke) and Portia Padilla (100 backstroke) earned state spots.
Padilla, English and Weeks will partner up on both girls statebound relay teams, while Isabell Henry and Rachel Davidson each get a relay spot — Henry on the 200 medley relay and Davidson on the 400 free relay.
The Stars have two starters in the boys 50 freestyle, where David Hall and Cody Watkins both hold opportunities to win a medal.
Hall led Watkins to a Soldotna 1-2 finish in the 50 free last weekend, nipping his teammate and friend by a tenth of a second. It also represented Hall’s first time getting to the state meet.
“We’ve trained, we’ve tapered, we’ve done everything we can do,” Hall said. “There’s nothing else we can do to get faster, it’s all a mental game now. If you know you can do the best you can do, then you just have to do it.”
Hall will also be competing in the 100 freestyle race, as well as both boys relays — the 200- and 400-yard freestyle relays.
Hall’s brother, Jacob, is swimming at state in two freestyle events — the 200- and 500-yard distances — and is also on both boys relays.
Jacob Creglow made the state cut in the boys 200 IM and 100 breaststroke, as well as both relays, and teammate Watkins qualified for the 50 free (in which he is ranked fourth in the state) and the 100 fly.
The boys 200- and 400-yard free relays will be composed of both Hall brothers, Creglow and Watkins. The SoHi boys are ranked sixth in the state in the in the 200 free relay, but only a mere two seconds behind the top time.
Emily Boone, Brent Christenson, Connor Gross, Jenna Hansen, Cody Kincaid and Nathaniel Lazaros are making the trip as alternate swimmers.
The most recent Kardinals swimmer to win a state title was Winter Heaven’s victory in the boys 100 butterfly in 2010.
Of the three athletes that made the state cut for Kenai this season, the only one with previous state experience is Celestina Castro, who is competing in the girls 100 butterfly. Castor finished fourth in the region meet last weekend, with a time fast enough to secure a state berth in the 100 fly for the third straight year.
Jacob Dye will join Castro in Anchorage, qualifying in the boys 100 free, getting to state with a sixth-place finish at the region meet.
Mikaela Pitsch punched her ticket to state with a third-place finish in the girls 1-meter diving event at the region meet.
After coming home with a single gold medal at last year’s state meet (Kaec Brinster in the boys 1-meter diving event), the Homer Mariners are looking to add more hardware to their collection.
However, the only divers Homer qualified were Ian Hall on the boys side and Annali Metz on the girls side.
Remi Nagle was the only Mariner to make the state cut in multiple events, qualifying for the boys 50 free and the 100 butterfly. Nagle finished fourth in the region in the latter event.
Lauren Kuhns (girls 500 free), Gregory Smith (boys 100 back) and Cheyanne Smith (as an alternate in the girls 100 breaststroke) are also making the state trip.
Seward’s lone qualifier for state is Sasha Hamner, in the girls 100 freestyle event. Hamner finished fifth in the 100 free championship race at the Region III meet with a time of 58.36 seconds.
Ryan O’Leary is the last Seward swimmer to have won a state title. O’Leary won both boys freestyle races at the 2010 state meet.