The Thunder Mountain swim team has already made tremendous strides from a year ago, and the 2011 campaign doesn’t even start until today’s opener in Craig.
The Falcons’ growth has been just that — growth, as in twice the amount of swimmers and divers from last season, which was the second in school history.
“We had about 14 last year so we’ve doubled. It’s a combination of things because we have a bunch of new kids — swimmers and divers,” coach Jason Wilson said. “Kids have decided to come out — sophomores and juniors, and we have a nice crop of freshmen, which is a nice mix of kids.”
The opening of the new Dimond Park Aquatic Center — a stone’s throw from the high school — likely lended a helping hand, and the Falcons’ new digs have increased the team’s expectations along with its roster.
“I think it’s been a really big boost for the team to have a place you can call home. With the size of the team now, it’s a different make-up,” Wilson said. “We had 14 last year, sharing the pool with (Juneau-Douglas), Glacier Swim Club and the public. It just felt like it wasn’t our space and I don’t know how to describe the way it feels now, other than it’s like staying at a hotel for a while and then getting to go home.
“I think the expectations are for us to be highly competitive with some of the larger schools,” he continued. “Just being able to compete with JD and Ketchikan would be great. I think we’ve made some nice strides in the first couple of years, and doubling the team’s size gives us a lot of things. Having all the freshmen gives us more depth in a lot of races.”
The Falcons return a couple of state qualifiers on the boys’ side, with Calvin Walsh competing in the 200- and 500-yard freestyle swims, and Tanner Olliff in the 100 breaststoke.
“We’re looking really good,” said Olliff, the Falcons’ lone senior. “We’re starting to get really fast and everybody’s feeling good. We’re really getting in shape and getting a feel for the water.
“I’m already going faster than I was last year and I’m excited for regionals and state. It should be a good year,” he continued. “I definitely want to final in state and bring home a medal if I can.”
Wilson said he’s looking for junior Jimmie Busch to have a breakout year, as well as Walsh, Olliff, and sophomore Josiah Loseby, who returns after breaking his arm before last season.
“We have three or four guys that can all be considered top 16 swimmers in the state in the 100 breast,” Wilson said. “That’s one of our best events, and we could have two or three guys in the 200 free. And the 50 and 100 free should also be strong for us.”
Loseby said the team’s dry-land workouts have paid dividends for everyone’s conditioning.
“Jason has really hard dry-lands and everyone is really sore after (working out),” he said. “We do squats, push ups, sprints and rope exercises. It makes us stronger when we kick and pull, and our starts are better, too. I definitely feel stronger than I was before.”
Wilson said while the boys’ team has benefited from a large influx of swimmers, the girls’ team is still lacking depth.
Junior captain Selene Smith said most of the girls are freshmen and there are just a couple of juniors.
“But most of our freshmen are pretty good and I’m looking forward to seeing how we do at the meets this year,” she said. “I don’t think we’ll be dominating anyone, but I think we’ll do well. We’re really excited about this weekend and I don’t think we’ll finish at the top, but we’ll show everyone that we’re there.
“The workouts are going great, and coach Jason is really motivating us. We’ll do well because of him.”
Wilson said the team also will benefit from the addition of Glacier Swim Club coach Scott Griffith, who has worked with a lot of Juneau’s young swimmers for several years now.
“We lost Nicole O’Brien, who has gone off to college and we’re very proud of her. We were able to scoop up Scott Griffith and we’re really excited to have him,” Wilson said. “And Tim Fraychineaud is back as dive coach. We have some continuity in that Scott has coached a lot of these kids for the last four or five years.
“It’s a steal having him.”
Wilson said the team is thankful to the public for sharing the new aquatic center’s early-morning lanes, and Thunder Mountain has never been more prepared for the start of a season because of it.
“The public has really been great in sharing the pool with us so I’d really like to say thank you. It’s a big sacrifice and we’re very thankful for it,” he said. “The work that these kids do, especially the dry-land stuff, they’re doing some serious stuff. We have great support from the parents and we’re really excited to get the season started.”