On Tuesday and Thursday mornings, Juneau-Douglas High School Junior Alex Barto is in the pool at 5 a.m. training for swimming glory. These early practices are extra work in addition to the two and a half hours or practice five days per week that Barto attends. It's just part of the routine for a swimmer preparing to compete for the Crimson Bears.
Barto has been swimming for 10 years and is one of 28 swimmers and 10 divers who compete for the JDHS swimming and diving team.
The team started practicing last week in preparation for its first swim meets Sept. 5-6. The Crimson Bears will face Southeast Alaska teams from Ketchikan, Petersburg and Sitka.
The JDHS team is young, with only five seniors and also has two new coaches. Jason Wilson and Kathy Milhorn take over coaching duties this year from former head coach John Wray. Wilson is a 1986 JDHS graduate and was part of a boy's team that won a state title in 1984. Millhorn has coached for the Gastineau Swim Club since 1990.
The new coaches will take the helm of a young team that has found success in the pool in recent years. The JDHS girls team won three consecutive state titles between 2004-2007. Last year, the swimming and diving team set a state record in the Girls 200 medly relay. The JDHS boys finished third at state last season and won a state title in 2004.
The JDHS girls will get some help from standout freshman swimmer Auri Clark, one of the fastest young swimmers in the state. Clark, 14, was one of nine girls picked for an Alaska All-Star team that traveled to the USA Swimming Western Zone competitions in Oregon last month. The Alaska team was picked based on swim times and age groups.
Clark said the Alaska team did well despite not placing among the top team at the event. She said the Alaska team had to adapt to swimming in a 50-meter swimming pool. The only pool of that size in Alaska is located in Anchorage.
As a member of Alaska's Western Zone All-Star team, Clark is currently one of the most promising young swimmers in Alaska. Clark has been swimming competitively since she was seven and currently trains and swims competitively year round. When the high school season is over she swims for the Glacier Swim Club.
"It's kind of hard because you have to dedicate a lot of time to swim meets," she said. "You have to leave out of town pretty often, and you have swimming after school and in the morning. You definitely have to be dedicated to swimming."
Fellow teammate and JDHS senior Katie Busch is one of only three senior girls on this year's team and was part of two state championship teams. Although the JDHS girls are the three-time defending state champs, Busch was hesitant to make any predictions about the upcoming season after graduating nine seniors from last year's championship squad.
"We lost a lot of swimmers last year," she said. "This year we are just recuperating. We will see how it goes."
On the boys side, Mircea Brown is one of three seniors on the boys team and is optimistic about the team's chances to win state in 2008.
Brown is a distance specialist and swims the 500-meter free style and 200-meter free style. He said this year's JDHS boys team is just as fast as last year's third place team.
"It's going to be really exciting," he said. "The guys have a chance at winning state. We have a lot of good swimmers."
When asked if he had been watching Michael Phelps swim at the Olympics, Brown said: "He makes it look really easy. It's not that easy."