JUNEAU - Second-year Juneau-Douglas High School swim coach Kathrin Millhorn doesn't mince words when it comes to her expectations for the defending state champion Crimson Bears boys' swim team.
"We expect that the Juneau-Douglas boys will actually win state again this year," she said matter-of-factly. "I think they're going to win by the same margin that they did last year, about 20 points."
The girls' team is the defending Region V champion, and Millhorn's expectations are almost as high for their final finish at state in 2009.
"I expect our girls team to place in the top three this year," she said. "We'd like them to win the region championship again this year, and we'll be traveling to Sitka, so we'll have a limited number of team members. I think the girls can still dominate."
If the recent performances of Crimson Bears senior dynamic duo Cody Brunette and Nick Rutecki at the USA Swimming Junior Nationals in Washington are any indication of things to come, this could be the best season in JDHS history.
Brunnette, who set two state records in winning the 200-meter freestyle and 100 butterfly at last year's state meet, broke his own state record in the 100 fly at Nationals. Rutecki, who also won two individual state titles last year in the 50 and 100 free, broke a 23-year-old record in the 50 free in Washington.
But, Millhorn said, this is much more than a two-man team.
"We do a lot of team-building activities so the focus is never on one individual because they know that without each piece, they can't win state," she said. "I've been really proud of them the last year, pulling together and functioning as a team. They recognize that they all have strengths to offer to the team.
"As a group, they know what the end result can be if they all work together, and I think the team spirit that they show and togetherness they have on the pool deck is pretty impressive in comparison to some of the teams that I've seen."
Also returning to help defend the school's 200 free relay state title is senior Seth Cayce, a breaststroke specialist. He agreed that expectations are high.
"Team-wise, we've made it pretty clear that we want to repeat at state," he said. "We didn't lose anyone that scored a whole lot of points last year, so I think we've got a really good shot at winning again."
The boys also have another milestone in their sights: breaking the senior class relay records.
"One goal that the senior boys have this year is that they have successfully broken the freshmen, sophomore and junior relay records, and they want to break the senior relay records so that they hold all of the records," she said.
Millhorn said the girls went through a rebuilding period last year after winning the 2007 state championship.
"The girls' we have now, with the freshmen coming in, are getting strong in terms of the team and their ability to compete," she said. "I think it's going to be a really interesting year for them. We have strength in our seniors and our freshmen, and we had pretty strong sophomores last year."
Millhorn said the state experience gained last season will be a springboard for some of the girls.
"We had some kids go to state that probably didn't expect to, and they surprised themselves a little," she said. "They were inexperienced when they went last year, so I think they struggled a little bit with getting their footing. I think this year they should make state again, and they should be stronger for it.
"We'd definitely like to have some girls finish first at state this year," she continued. "For us, it's just getting them there and getting them to remain calm and focused."
Senior Kate Lushkin said Ketchikan will likely be the girls' biggest competition locally.
"They beat us, and then we beat them at state, so it kind of went back and forth," she said of the teams' relay battles in 2008. "We'd like to do our best to beat them, and it will be interesting to see what happens. We have a strong class of freshman and sophomore girls. We really thrive off each others' energy, excitement and enthusiasm in the relays. We're ready to race, do our best and support our teammates."
Millhorn said some of the biggest strengths is the teams' knack for supporting each other and putting in the work it will take to succeed.
"This group has been particularly positive, and I don't see any of the negative stuff about practice times and things that are required," she said. "They handle each challenge with a good attitude and they support eachother."
Millhorn said it will be exciting to watch the teams build upon the accomplishments of 2008.
"Last year was an interesting season," she said. "The kids pulled together and really performed well, and they're only going to get better."