The Alaska swimming and diving state championships reward teams with heavy rosters and deep relays.
That much is apparent when perusing through the state record books. In high school swimming, the bigger the school, the better the swim program.
Until the Kodiak boys snapped their streak last year, the Dimond Lynx were winners of eight straight state boys team titles. On the girls side, Dimond, Juneau, Kodiak and Service had combined to win all of the previous decade’s state crowns.
That is the key reason why peninsula squads have found it rough in capturing a state title. While there have been many moments of individual brilliance, teams like Soldotna, Kenai Central and Homer are fighting from the first swing while Anchorage schools have already rounded second.
This weekend, 277 total swimmers and divers will converge on the Bartlett High School pool for two days of state championship swimming and diving.
Dimond is sending 27 individual athletes and six relay teams. Kodiak, which swept last week’s Region III meet, is also sending six relays, along with 21 individual swimmers.
In comparison, Soldotna qualified 14 athletes, the most of any peninsula squad. Homer is bringing 12, while Kenai and Seward combine for five.
“State is always tough,” said Soldotna head coach Angie Brennan. “The Anchorage schools always dominate.”
The Stars are only bringing two relays, down from five a year ago. A big loss of senior talent from 2016 helps explain that, as none of the three boys relays made it out of the Region III meet.
Still, Brennan is pleased with the Stars’ turnout of 14 state qualifiers.
“It’s a good number,” she said. “It’s really good.”
In order to compete at state, an individual needs to either win their region event or finish as one of the top 12 fastest in the state.
SoHi junior Sydney Juliussen made it easy for herself last week with a victory in the girls 100-yard freestyle race at the Region III meet. Her time seeded her third in the event, and her time in the 50-yard free helped seed her fifth in that race.
“If anyone can do it, Sydney can pull it off,” Brennan said. “She’s a phenomenal competitor. She’s just very good at racing.”
Also from SoHi, junior Kylin Welch enters the one-meter diving event as a potential championship contender. Welch is seeded third in diving after a runner-up finish last week, and teammate Sam Skolnick is seeded fifth. Welch’s region points are 475.10 and Skolnick’s are 417.55, while top-seeded Ethan Larson from Bartlett grabbed 491.30 last week.
“Kylin’s a phenomenal diver. watching him practice yesterday, and he blows my mind. for him to be that competitive, we’re stoked,” Brennan said.
SoHi senior Portia Padilla will make her sendoff in two events, the girls 100 backstroke and 100 butterfly. Padilla is seeded ninth in the backstroke and 11th in the fly.
SoHi’s Ethan Evans enters the boys 50 free ranked seventh, putting him in position to grab a finals spot.
Brennan added that it was exciting to see Zeina Abouelkheir in the girls 500 free and Connor Gross in the boys 500 free, both of whom squeaked in from the region meet.
Two relays, the girls 400 free and the 200 medley, will be put together by the Stars.
For Homer, the story all year has been freshman sensation Madison Story, who enters her first state meet seeded seventh in both the girls 200 IM and 100 breaststroke. Story finished second by a sliver in the breaststroke event last week at regions, and third in the medley.
Teammate Annalynn Brown enters the state weekend seeded fifth in girls diving.
The Mariners also qualified two girls relays, the 200 free and 200 medley teams.
Among the four athletes from Kenai Central that will be making the drive up to state, junior Savaii Heaven enters with one of the best shots give the Kardinals a state championship. Heaven’s second-place finish in the boys 100 backstroke helped to seed him third in the race at state, and he is also seeded sixth in the boys 100 free.
Another Kenai junior, Hunter Reese, has been consistently one of the top swimmers this fall, and is ranked fifth in the boys 50 free at state after finishing runner-up in that race last weekend. Reese is also seeded fifth in the boys 100 butterfly.
Kenai qualified two relays to state on time, the boys 400 free and 200 medley squads.
While Seward is one of the smallest swim programs at the meet, Connor Spanos is on the precipice of making a finals appearance. The Seward sophomore is the only Seahawks swimmer that qualified to state and is ranked ninth in the boys 100 butterfly, after netting a fourth-place finish at the Region III meet.
Peninsula State Swimming &Diving Qualifiers
Boys — Ethan Evans, Connor Gross, Sam Skolnick, Kylin Welch. Girls — Zeina Abouelkheir, Madelyn Barkman, Kortney Birch, Ryann Cannava, Katie Creglow, Kennedy Holland, Alex Juliussen, Sydney Juliussen, Darby McMillan, Portia Padilla.
Boys — Trevor Bagley, Savaii Heaven, Hunter Reese, Owen Rolph.
Boys — Clayton Arndt, Teddy Handley, Jake Nelson. Girls — Alia Bales, Chloe Bechtol, Adeline Berry, Ella Blanton-Yourkowski, Annalynn Brown, Iris Downey, Mia Groves, Elizabeth Love, Madison Story.
Boys — Connor Spanos.