In the world of high school swimming and diving in Alaska, the season-ending state meet typically takes on the usual qualities of high-intensity, high-stakes competition that raises the heartbeats of swimmers fraught with nervousness.
If there is a meet to be concerned with, however, it should be this weekend’s slate of region meets. Among the four conference meets being held in the state this weekend, only the winner of each swim event earns an automatic berth to state. It’s go big, or go home.
After each individual champion, the next 12 best times statewide get slots to the state meet. In the relay events, the winning team from each region moves on along with the next four best statewide times, while the top two divers from each conference plus the next eight best scores go to state.
So it is only natural that this weekend will see the most worried faces of those wishing to end their prep season on a high note. Competing at state is one thing. Managing to get there is another.
This weekend’s Region III championships will mark the first time since 2008 that the three-day event will be held in Valdez. That was the first of six consecutive years that the Kodiak boys have claimed the region crown.
Now that the teams have returned to the Valdez pool, perhaps the region is on the verge of beginning a new streak?
Kodiak has won eight straight girls Region III team championships. It would appear that the girls streak is at high risk of being broken, as the Colony girls have made a routine this year of winning regional invites. Just two weeks ago, the Knights captured the Palmer Invitational with 91 points, ahead of Soldotna (79) and Kodiak (58).
Soldotna coach Lucas Petersen knows the stakes are high and the margins are tight this weekend if the Stars wish to win a region crown. For example, the SoHi boys 200-yard medley relay is ranked second in the region with a top performance of 1 minute, 41.80 seconds, a scant .01 seconds slower than the Colony boys top time.
“I think our girls will stack up pretty close to Colony, but it’s going to come down to the relays,” Petersen predicted. “One relay shifts and you have a 10-point swing. One swim could make the difference here.”
The Kodiak boys, looking for their seventh-straight region title, may have an easier time than their female counterparts. The Bears won the Palmer Invite team title two weeks ago by a healthy margin of 111-70 over the runner-up Stars.
One of the most competitive events is shaping up to be the 1-meter dives. Six of the top eight boys scores in the state belong to Region III divers. The Peninsula’s top diver is Ian Hall of Homer, who slots in at sixth. SoHi freshman Kylin Welch, who currently holds the 14th-best diving score in the state and 10th in the region, is a solid bet to qualify for state, according to Petersen.
“Our region is by far the toughest region to dive in, and the top divers in the state are here,” Petersen said. “So if (Kylin) makes it, I think he has a good chance of finaling at state.”
On the girls side, Kenai Central junior Mikaela Pitsch could be on track to capture her first region crown in the girls 1-meter diving events, as she currently holds the top dive score of 202.70 points in the region, 8.65 points better than Colony’s Eileen Cyr. However, Cyr isn’t far behind, having beaten Pitsch at the Palmer Invite just two weeks prior by nearly 40 points. Annali Metz of Homer is the third-ranked diver in the region.
The top three times in the boys 100-yard butterfly belong to Region III swimmers, including the time of 54.39 seconds of junior Cody Watkins in third. Watkins will have to top Kodiak’s Talon Lindquist (51.93) and Colony’s Jake Simmons (53.92).
However, Watkins’ best race in 2015 has been the 50-yard freestyle, an event that he leads in the region with a time of 22.17 seconds. The Stars make up two of the top three spots in the region in the sprint event, with SoHi teammate David Hall holding a season best of 22.73, just two-tenths behind Lindquist.
All three Soldotna boys relays are ranked in the top three in the state, the latter two the best in the region. The SoHi boys 400-yard freestyle relay is the fastest in the state by .61 seconds over Dimond. That team will be composed this weekend of Watkins, David Hall, Jacob Hall and Jacob Creglow. David Hall is the defending region champ in the 50 free, while his brother Jacob is currently ranked second in the boys 500 free. Creglow will be competing in the 200 IM and 100 breaststroke. Creglow currently holds the third-fastest region time in the latter.
The Soldotna girls 200 medley relay holds the top time in the region this year with a 1:56.65, almost four seconds ahead of the second-fastest squad, Colony. This weekend’s lineup remains the same, as Rachel Davidson, Claire McElroy, Portia Padilla and Sydney Juliussen take on the best in the region in hopes of winning the gold.
McElroy’s time of 1:12.61 in the 100 breaststroke is currently the time to beat among region swimmers this year.
Lauren Kuhns has been a consistent scorer for the Homer girls this season, having picked up victories in the 500 freestyle, an event she currently ranks 10th in the state in but first among Region III racers. Kuhns also ranks second in the region in the 200 freestyle, only behind Kodiak’s Marina Cumisskey.