JUNEAU - No matter how this first season of Thunder Mountain High School swimming goes, one thing is certain: Falcons swimmers and divers will have the opportunity to set a new school record virtually every time they jump in the pool.
It's that type of positive attitude coach Jason Wilson wants all of his young swimmers to exude during the team's first season, and it seems to be rubbing off.
"The coaches are all really nice and they just want to make sure that we do the best that we can do," said junior Anna Bullock. "They expect us to give it our all, all of the time. We just want to swim as hard as we can, especially since we're a new school. We want to develop and let everybody know that we're out here and we're competition."
The next step for the fledgling Falcons swim and dive programs is to get more kids out in the pool. TMHS currently has about 10 swimmers and two divers, but Wilson hopes more will join during the two weeks leading up to the season opener in Sitka Aug. 28-29.
"People are finding out about the program and inquiring, so we're expecting maybe three or four more people in the next week or two," said Wilson, a former head and assistant coach at JDHS who also was a member of the Crimson Bears' 1985 state title team. "But we have a lot of kids on vacation that are starting to come back. It would be nice to have most of our roster intact within the next week or so."
Wilson would specifically like to see more female swimmers come out.
"We have a lot of freshmen, and only a couple of girls," he said. "But there's a really nice base for the boys. It's a good start for the program. You want to start with the young kids so they'll be with you for awhile and you can build with them. We'd love to have 40 kids and a nice even split with 20 boys and 20 girls, but the school is brand new."
The swim team is young, with no seniors and just one junior girl, but most of the kids have been swimming together for years as a part of the Glacier Swim Club.
"Some are beginner swimmers that have come through GSC and just started swimming a couple of years ago," Wilson said. "But they've already come a long way over the summer, which is a good start for them. It's the true definition of starting a program from scratch. Only a few of them have competitive experience."
The dive team, however, has experience in senior Zeeba Sanchez, who competed for Juneau-Douglas High School last year.
"We have two kids, so we have a recruiting effort going on," dive coach Tim Fraychineaud said. "We're looking for some strong new divers to fill out our squad so we can build for the future. We do have a returnee coming back, Zeeba Sanchez, and she's a strong diver who will score a bunch of points for us. Zeeba's clearly had some good coaching in the past. She's got strong fundamentals, and she's a talented kid."
Sanchez is entering her third season of competitive diving.
"I just want to learn a couple new dives and continue to perfect my previous dives," Sanchez said. "It's pretty cool we have a new freshman diver, Clover Strickling, and I hope she has fun and comes back next year."
Wilson said the swim team has already begun to gel.
"Basically, they're starting a program together," he said. "The bonding they'll have will carry them through the next four years, and it will be very tight, very strong. The friendships they'll build - a swim team is like a family with the amount of hours that we spend together, the traveling we do together. Just like any other sport, that will be a huge strength for the freshmen as they grow."
Exactly who will compete in individual and relay events will be decided during the next two weeks, and Wilson said his main goal for this year is to provide a strong program for kids to excel in with a positive atmosphere. He also has added a new assistant coach in the form of former JDHS swimmer Jesie Lewis.
"She's a big-time swimmer who was with the Glacier Swim Club and JDHS, who also went to college and did very well," Wilson said. "We're very lucky to have her as a coach."
Now Wilson would just like to add more kids to his burgeoning team.
"We need anybody who wants to swim and try out for a sport," he said. "Swimming is a great sport and it helps build on to other sports - basketball players, come on down and we'll teach you how to swim. We'll strengthen you and we can start from scratch.
"We're really fortunate Kathy Millhorn has coached the Glacier Swim Club and has known most of these kids since they were 7, 8 years old," he continued. "I'm sure there are other swimmers out there who might not remember that they're swimmers, but there's a familiar face down here."
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