State swim preview: Stars aim to end another drought

The Soldotna swimming and diving program ended one drought last weekend in Valdez. The Stars are looking to end another today and Saturday at the state swimming and diving meet at Bartlett High School in Anchorage.

Saturday in Valdez, the Soldotna girls won their first Region III swimming and diving title since 2004, when they were finishing off a string of six straight crowns.

“I couldn’t be more proud,” said Lucas Petersen, who was named the region’s coach of the year. “We had a great meet across the board — the boys and the girls.

“The girls had the excitement of going for the team title and they pulled it out. They did a great job.”

The coach said every single swimmer swam faster in Saturday’s finals than in Friday’s preliminaries. One of the biggest highlights was Claire McElroy breaking a school record in the 100-yard breaststroke to win a region title. The record was held by Karina Petersen, who is the sister of Lucas.

“I got to call my sister and tell her that her record had been broken,” Petersen said. “That was fun.”

He also said it was fun, in his fourth year, getting the program back to the point where it wins region titles.

Now, he would like to get the program back to winning individual and relay titles at state. Amazingly, the proud SoHi swim program has not taken a state title since Abby Kiffmeyer won the 100 butterfly and 100 backstroke at the 2003 state meet.

“The goal is always to get back to the top,” Petersen said. “Kodiak had been so strong in past years, and their depth really helped out as well.

“We definitely have more depth on the girls side. We’ve got a couple seniors that we are going to miss, but our group is still really young and that makes it exciting.”

Because they had a shot at the region title, Peterson said he trained his girls to peak at regions, while his boys are being trained to peak at state.

“I’ll get the girls a little extra rest,” Petersen said. “They’ll hold onto their taper and still swim fast.”

The best shot for a state title on the girls side comes from McElroy in the 100 breaststroke. She is seeded third with her time of 1:08.40, while Dimond’s Madeleine Oakley holds the top spot at 1:07.53.

Probably the biggest factor in SoHi’s region victory was the three relays, including what Petersen called an unexpected victory by the 200 freestyle relay of McElroy, Emily Boone, Madelyn Brennan and Darby McMillan. That relay is seeded seventh at state, while the 400 free relay is sixth.

The relay with the best chance at success is the 200 medley relay squad of McElroy, Rachel Davidson, Portia Padilla and Sydney Juliussen. Petersen said the group has its eyes on a school record.

That group also has an extensive individual schedule, as Juliussen is seeded eighth in the 50 free and 12th in the 500 free, Padilla is 12th in the 100 butterfly and 15th in the 100 backstroke, and Davidson is 14th in the 100 backstroke.

On the boys side, the best shots at breaking the state drought come from Cody Watkins, and the 200 and 400 free relays.

David Hall, Jacob Hall, Jacob Creglow and Watkins swim on the relays

David Hall is a senior, while the other three are juniors.

“I’d like to see those relays battling to win,” Petersen said.

The 400 free relay, which is closing in on a school record, actually broke the old region record Saturday but still finished second to Kodiak. The 400 squad is seeded third at 3:16.81, with Dimond on top at 3:12.62. The 200 free relay is third at 1:28.99, with Dimond setting the pace at 1:28.07.

Watkins is second in the 50 free at 21.94, with Nathanial Adams of Service leading at 21.45. In the 100 butterfly, Watkins sits third at 53.19, with Kodiak’s Talon Lindquist on top at 51.04.

“Cody Watkins broke 22 in the 50 freestyle at regions and he’s been aiming at that a long time,” Petersen said.

The boys also have a lot of other potential places to reach the podium. Jacob Hall is seeded third in the 500 free and fifth in the 200 free, Creglow is fifth in the 200 IM and seventh in the 100 breaststroke and David Hall is fifth in the 100 free and 10th in the 50 free.

Diver Kylin Welch also is seeded fifth.

“I think he’s going to surprise some people,” Petersen said of Welch. “He has been doing some amazing things in practice.”

Kenai Central coach Judy Lallier will take three swimmers and divers to state.

Mikaela Pitsch is seeded sixth in diving.

“I’ve seen her trying a few more challenging dives to bring into her repertoire,” Lallier said. “She’s ready to go in strong and hungry and see what happens.”

Savaii Heaven, seeded 11th in the 100 breaststroke, and Hunter Reese, seeded 14th in the 200 freestyle, were both on the bubble heading into regions, so Lallier is happy both came through with state-qualifying swims.

Both Heaven, a freshman, and Reese, a sophomore, are making their first appearance at state, so Lallier said the experience will be a key step in their swimming careers.

The coach said both swimmers have attributes that could lead to state success. Savaii is the brother of Winter Heaven, who won state titles in the 200 freestyle and 100 butterfly in 2010, so Savaii has been exposed to big meets. Lallier said Reese is the type of swimmer who does not let anything faze him.

First-year Homer coach Wil Roedl brings five swimmers and divers to Anchorage in his first year as coach.

Roedl, a 2006 Homer graduate, said he’s planning on being the head coach for a while after the program has sustained constant coaching turnover in recent years.

“I was taken by surprise by the whole situation,” Roedl said. “They needed a coach and I love the program.

“I was willing to step in because I think this needs to happen. It’s good for kids.”

Mariners junior Lauren Kuhns is seeded 10th in the 200 freestyle and sixth in the 500 freestyle, an event in which she took the region championship last weekend.

Roedl said Kuhns is tapered to have her best swims this weekend. A big goal of hers is to break the school record in the 500 free, which is at low 5:22. Kuhns has been as low as 5:28 on Friday at the region preliminaries.

Senior Sergius Hannan is seeded eighth in the 100 butterfly and 100 backstroke. Roedl said Hannan is tapering so well that he expects him to make the finals and even move up a few spots.

“It’s too bad I only get to work with him for a year,” Roedl said. “He’s a hard-working, intelligent, well-behaved, talented swimmer.”

The Mariners have three divers going. Ian Hall is seeded sixth, while Rhythm Beckett-Cook is eighth and Annali Metz is 10th.

Roedl wouldn’t be surprised if Hall moves up the charts.

“I expect he’ll do better at state than at regions,” Roedl said. “He’s a competitor. He thrives on competition.”

Roedl said both Beckett-Cook and Metz are young but have put in a lot of hard work that should show this weekend.

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