Last year’s Region III streak-snapping swimming championship by the Soldotna girls proved that the Kodiak Bears are indeed human.
This year, the Stars are looking to embark on their own streak when the Region III swimming and diving meet gets underway in Kodiak.
Soldotna had won six consecutive girls region titles from 1999 to 2004 before making it back to the top step last year. The Kodiak girls had won eight straight region girls crowns before SoHi snapped it, beating runner-up Colony 82 to 77 points, but a deep Stars contingent came through by winning four events, including two of the three relays. SoHi coach Lucas Petersen said the relay success played a big role in winning last year, and he hopes to see it again today and tomorrow.
“The relays were the biggest different makers, we do well in the relays,” Petersen said. “I’m really happy with how they line up this year.”
SoHi’s relay victories came in the 200-yard medley and the 200-yard freestyle events, and Petersen believes his girls team can repeat, although the Colony Knights will undoubtedly have something to say, both in the relay events and the team championship.
At the Valley Invitational two weeks ago, the most recent big meet, the Knights came away the winners with 70 points, ahead of Kodiak with 63 and SoHi with 52.
“(Colony is) going to give us good run for our money in the medley (relay),” he said. “We’ll see how well our girls do. If we’re stacked with our best swimmers, I think we can win.”
In the individual events, Petersen pointed out a trio of seniors that he is hoping to send to state in their final years — Sydney Juliussen, who won the 50-yard free at regions last year, along with Rachel Davidson and Portia Padilla, who are seeded Nos. 1 and 2 in the 100-yard backstroke.
Meanwhile, the Kodiak boys are on a current seven-year region title run, and it doesn’t appear to be slowing anytime soon. The Bears captured last year’s title with 104 points, while SoHi finished second with 71.
Two weeks ago at the Valley Invite, the Stars again finished the bridesmaid to Kodiak with a 108-60 margin. SoHi’s biggest threat to haul in the most points is senior Cody Watkins, who won a region title in the boys 50 free last year, then finished second at state in the 50 free and 100 butterfly.
Petersen said Watkins can win again in both events, although he will face stiff competition from Jake Simmons of Colony in the 100 fly. Watkins beat out Simmons in the butterfly event at the SoHi Pentathlon earlier this season.
“He has a good shot at winning both events and setting himself up well for state,” Petersen said. “He’ll be poised to win at state.”
Fellow seniors Jacob Creglow, swimming the 200-yard IM and 100 breaststroke, and Jacob Hall, in the 200 and 500 freestyle races, will be other SoHi swimmers to watch. Hall is the defending region champion in the 500 free and is currently seeded first.
Petersen is eyeing a second-place team finish for his boys, which is all that anyone can do against Kodiak.
The Homer Mariners’ big gun to win individually and make it to state in multiple events is senior Lauren Kuhns, who will be swimming the girls 500 free and the 200 IM.
Kuhns, a four-year swimmer that began with club swimming in Homer, recently signed a national letter of intent to compete at Division II Assumption College in Massachusetts.
“She is very dedicated, she’s been swimming since she was at least in junior high,” said Homer coach Will Roedl. “She’s wanted to be a collegiate swimmer.”
Kuhns, the lone senior on the Homer girls squad, won the girls 500 free last year by more than 14 seconds and also qualified to state in the 200 free. Two weeks ago in the Valley, she was second in the 100 breaststroke and the 200 free.
While Kuhns ends her prep career in swimming, another Homer girl is on the rise. Mariners diver Rhythm Beckett-Cook qualified to state last year as a freshman, and Roedl said she could break through again this weekend. Beckett-Cook took third at this year’s Valley Invite.
“She still looks very good and has been improving,” he said.
Roedl said that after taking five girls to the region meet in 2015, he will have seven this year. On the boys side, he is bringing 10 competitors with hopes of success.
Roedl said he expects strong swimming from sophomore Teddy Handley, who is seeded in the 100 butterfly and 50 free races. Handley is capable of podium places, Roedl said, adding that Spencer Warren is a diver that could place well, while seniors Hyram Dory and Kane Graham look to close out their high school years with strong performances.
After missing out on every relay final at the region meet last year, Roedl believed his Mariners have a shot to return this time around in the girls medley and the boys 400 free relays.
The Kenai Central girls finished fifth at the Region III meet last year, while the boys were sixth. Two weeks ago in the Valley, the Kardinal boys were fifth in the team race, while the girls were 10th.
One of the biggest point scorers over the last season has been senior Mikaela Pitsch, who went to state last year in girls 1-meter diving after a second-place finish at the Region III meet. Eileen Cyr of Colony just beat Pitsch last year by .05 points at regions, 321.30 to 321.25, but Pitsch turned the tables against Cyr two weeks ago at the Valley Invite by 4.49 points.
On the boys side, Kenai coach Judy Lallier raved early this season over the performances of Savaii Heaven and Hunter Reese. At the Valley Invite, Reese took home a fifth-place finish in the boys 50 free, while Heaven was fifth in the 100 backstroke.
The Seward swim team is bringing nine athletes to the meet, headed by coach Meghan O’Leary, a first-year coach at Seward but with several seasons of experience at the club levels.
O’Leary said the Seahawks have already gotten the weekend off to the right start by doing some exploring and having adventures around the town of Kodiak, which included a jaunt down to the beach for fossil-hunting.
The seven girls and two boys on the team are there to have fun, O’Leary said, and with a relaxed atmosphere can have some big swims.
“We want to swim with heart,” O’Leary said. “This is the end of the season for most of them.”
After qualifying no athletes to the state meet a year ago, O’Leary said she would like to break that streak.
Among the rising stars is freshman Connor Spanos, who is seeded fifth in the boys 100 butterfly. O’Leary said Spanos will likely have to cut a second off his current season best if he wants to qualify to state. Spanos is also swimming the 100 breaststroke.
The only other Seward boys swimmer is sophomore Trapper Allen, a first-year rookie who will be competing in the 50 free and 100 breaststroke.
On the girls side, junior Elena Hamner will be swimming the girls 500- and 50-yard freestyle races, while fellow junior Megan Koster will take on the 200 IM and 100 backstroke. Dutch exchange Sarah Meinema is also taking on the 50 free, and will be swimming her best event, the 100 breaststroke.
Seward sophomore Meghan Mullalay will be in the 50 free and 100 breaststroke, and the three freshmen on the team, Maddy Moore, Lindy Guernsey and Kalista Rodriguez, will be partaking in the short freestyle and breaststroke events.