The Juneau-Douglas boys’ swim team has been at or near the top of the state rankings for several years now.
The girls believe it’s their turn.
“Ahh, the girls,” co-coach Kathie Millhorn said, excited by possibilities of big things. “We’re going to be strong this year. The girls just have a certain intensity about them this year because they recognize they could be a strong group. They’re pulling together and trying to make that happen.
“I think we have the promise of taking a pretty good-sized team to state if the girls do what we expect for them this season.”
Co-captain Claressa Ullmayer agreed.
“I think we have a really great team this year,” she said. “We have a lot of strong swimmers and a lot of hard workers, and if we push ourselves we can get really far.”
A year after finishing eighth at the state championships, several Crimson Bear girls’ swimmers return, and the team has added a few accomplished freshmen to its ranks.
Haley Mertz, Savannah Cayce and Talyn Ramos — three-quarters of the team’s sixth-place 200-yard medley relay unit from a year ago — all return. Cayce and co-captain Auri Clark also swam on the Bears’ seventh-place 200 freestyle relay team.
Mertz qualified in the 200 free and finished eighth in the 100 backstroke at state last year, Ramos qualified for the 50 free and Clark finished sixth in both the 200 individual medley and 100 butterfly.
Savannah Cayce also qualified for 200 IM and 100 back, Jocelyn Cayce qualified for 100 fly and 100 breast, and Ramos made the 100 free prelims.
“Hayley Mertz is going to do well in her backstroke, and Savannah is looking at state again as well and she’s just a sophomore,” Millhorn said. “Jocelyn Cayce is junior and this could be her third trip to state.”
In addition to the all of the state-level talent and experience, freshmen Dakotah Isaac and Ciera Kelly are a couple of gifted new-comers. Both have competed in regional and national competitions with Glacier Swim Club, most recently the 2011 Western Zone Age Group Championships in Clovis, Calif.
Kelly placed in four events, including third in both the 50 free and 100 fly, fourth in the 100 free and fifth in the 200 IM. Isaak finished eighth in the 100 breast against the best age-group competition from 12 western states.
“Dakotah and Ciera are going to be strong additions to the team, in addition to a couple other freshman girls, Cecilia Ramos and Abigail Taylor Roth,” Millhorn said. “Over the course of their high school careers, we should see some really good things from them.”
It’s going to be a bit of a rebuilding process for the JDHS boys, which finished third in the state last year. Gone are Tyler Mickelson, Jonah Swanson, Evan Norman and Josh Anderson, but there are a few state qualifers returning.
“We’re a little smaller this year,” Millhorn said. “But we have some promise. We have a couple of freshmen that I think can produce, and I’m still looking at Calder Otsea to sparkle this year, have a breakout season and astound us all.”
Nathan Messing finished fifth in the 200 IM last year at state, Peter Bellagh made the dive semifinals, Cody Schick finished seventh in the 100 free, qualified for the 100 back and swam on the state champion 400 free relay team, and Tatsu Monkman made the 500 free prelims.
“With Nathan, Cody and Tatsu being back, the boys can do well in the region, take a number of swims to state and do really well there, as well,” Millhorn said. “It’s just a matter of keeping the kids in the water and staying focused.”
Captain Cody Schick said the boys’ team might be flying a bit under the radar at this juncture, but things are stacking up in the Bears’ favor to surprise people.
“The coaches have been pushing us really hard and I’m feeling it right now. I’m tired and sore — I can admit it. I know we’re all tired now but by the end of the season, we’ll be at our best,” he said. “Everyone wants to try our best and win state.”
Schick said Thunder Mountain is a team to watch for on the boys’ side this year because of the Falcons’ improved depth.
Peter Bellagh returns as the Bears’ top diver this season after a making it to the state semifinals a year ago.
“The first three years were the learning years, and now I’m just trying to make everything look better,” he said. “I’m still at the point where I’m working up to my tougher dives and I’m trying to perfect everything. I’m trying to learn double twisting, and I think six of the guys that finished in front of me last year were seniors.
“If I do well this year, top three or four is my goal.”
Scott Jones has been elevated from assistant coach to co-coach alongside Millhorn this season.
“Scott was a former GSC/JDHS swimmer with a number of records,” Millhorn said. “He’s a returning alum that’s coaching, which is very cool.”
Millhorn said she’s looking forward to another good season for the boys, and a possible breakout year for the girls’ team.
“The kids are getting along great, they’re focused and working really hard on their strokes,” she said. “They’re doing what we need to do to progress later in the season. I’m seeing a lot of improvement in our strokes and turns, so it’s been going really well.”
Ultimately, she said, both of Juneau’s high school teams are always looking for more athletes to join and compete.
“Both teams are open to any student,” she said, “and we want kids looking to swim or dive.”