The Juneau-Douglas High School boys swim team is small, but it has big dreams.
The Juneau girls swimming and diving team is larger, but has similar goals of repeating as region champions and finishing among the top teams at state.
The Crimson Bears open their season with this weekend's Juneau Invitational, which brings most of the top Southeast swimmers and divers to town.
Friday's meet starts at 6 p.m. at the Augustus G. Brown Swimming Pool and features the usual meet order with the diving in the middle of the list of swimming events. On Saturday, the diving event starts at 10:30 a.m. and the swimming events start at 2:45 p.m.
"I think our girls are in the driver's seat, but with the boys I don't know what will happen," Juneau head coach John Wray said of his teams, which have won the last 11 girls Region V titles and the last three boys crowns. Wray is assisted by Kathie Millhorn and former JDHS and college swimmer Jesie Lewis, while Cathy Tide coaches the divers.
The boys team is a question because of its size, with just 10 swimmers and only eight eligible for this weekend's meets. There are no Juneau boys on the diving squad. Juneau's girls squad has 24 members, including nine divers.
A lack of boys on the swim team is something new for Juneau, even though Wray said it's been part of a nationwide trend. He said USA Swimming has seen an explosion of growth in female swimmers, but the males seem to be turning to other sports.
"There are still a few good individuals, some excellent swimmers, in the state. But the days of the big powerhouse teams ... are a thing of the past," Wray said of boys swimming statewide.
That's why, even though they don't have the big numbers, the Crimson Bears feel they can contend for region and state titles. Two years ago, Juneau's boys shared the state title with Soldotna. Last season was considered a rebuilding year, but the Crimson Bear boys still managed to finish third at state.
This season Juneau returns three members of two second-place relay teams at state - seniors Tyler Hennon and Q Smyth and sophomore Kyle O'Brien, who were on the 200-yard medley relay and the 400 freestyle relay. Hennon also finished second by less than a second in the 500 free and O'Brien was fourth.
The key for the boys will be finding fourth members on their top two relays, and they might be junior Matt "Zippy" Josephson in the breaststroke leg of the 200 medley relay and senior freestyler Abe Levy in the 400 free relay. Levy was a member of the 200 free relay at state last year, while senior Tom Josephson (Matt's older brother) qualified for state in the 500 free last year. Relays count for double points in team scoring at the state meet, so filling the open slots is a big issue for the Crimson Bears.
"I think the guys' team is looking pretty good. I think we can do well at state," said Hennon, who is one of Juneau's two swim team captains (senior Kelsey Potdevin is the other). "I think our relays are looking strong."
"We all have been training hard all summer," Smyth said. "That pays dividends, even if it was only a little bit."
O'Brien has done the most off-season competition, and has yet to lose a race in Alaska this year in his age group. He just returned from the Western Zones meet earlier this month. But O'Brien said the other swimmers have been in the pool training as much as he has.
"I'm the only one who's gone to meets," O'Brien said. "(But) pretty much the whole team has been in the water."
Wray said Sitka's boys team, which includes defending state 100 breaststroke champion Matt Way, could be Juneau's biggest challenge in the region. He said Sitka had the most boys entered in this weekend's meet, and the Wolves finished in fourth place at state last year behind Juneau. Last year's boys state title went to Lathrop, while Service - which lost several swimmers to the opening of South Anchorage - took second.
Juneau's girls lost several key seniors from last year's team, but there is a strong crop of young swimmers that should ease the loss. Also, most of Juneau's top finishes at state last year came from underclassmen, so the Crimson Bears are hoping to improve on their sixth-place finish.
The top individual returner is senior diver Marnita Coenraad, who was fourth at state last year. She leads a group of nine divers, including junior state qualifiers Lexy Wagoner and Tanya Trucano (whose twin sister Holly also dives). Most of the other divers are in their first or second years, Tide said.
"Marnita will do well," Tide said. "She's still working on getting her dives back, but she'll do better. She'll have a little more experience and a little more confidence. It's pretty wide open."
Potdevin is the top returning swimmer for the girls, having finished sixth at state in the 100 free and seventh in the 100 backstroke. Sophomores Amanda Jones, Julia DiCostanzo and Kacey Klein also have state experience.
Potdevin, Klein and DiCostanzo were three-quarters of Juneau's school-record-setting 200 free relay team that took fourth place at state. Also back on the team is junior Claire Gross, who was a state qualifier two years ago but spent last year as an exchange student in Mexico.
"I think the girls team will be awesome," Potdevin said. "We had a lot of strong freshmen last year, and they'll be breaking all the sophomore records this season. And we've got nine new freshmen who will be breaking their freshmen records."
Leading the group of freshmen is Kristin Jones (no relation to Amanda), who joined O'Brien at the Western Zones meet earlier this month and is one of the top three swimmers in her age group in the state. Other freshmen include Sarah Felix and Koko Urata, who are among the top synchronized swimmers in the nation in the duet for their age group; age-group swimmers Lia Heifetz and Amber Kelly; and twins Sara and Melissa Bogert, who just moved to town from Montana and compete in triathlons.
"Kelsey put a lot of work in this summer, and she's got that confidence that comes with being a senior," Wray said. "Kristin, Amanda, Kacey and Julia all should qualify for state, and the two synchronized swimmers can make state, too. We've got a big group of freshmen."
Juneau's top competition in the region might come from Petersburg, which tied for seventh at state last year and was the top non-Class 4A school at state. Ketchikan was the only other Southeast team to score points at state last year. Service won the state title and Lathrop was second, and both figure to be among the top teams again this year.
Charles Bingham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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