With every new season comes new challenges, especially when you're a second-year program trying to establish your own identity.
During the first year of the Thunder Mountain swim team's existence, the kids practiced with Juneau-Douglas - a traditional state power during the last decade with eight top-two finishes between the boys' and girls' teams - but now, the Falcons are making their own way.
Thunder Mountain swim coach Jason Wilson said it was time to put some distance between Juneau-Douglas and Thunder Mountain, and let the Falcons fly solo. But along with a new team identity comes new scheduling problems at Augustus Brown Swimming Pool.
"Year two; new challenges," he said. "Last year we practiced and swam as one group between JD and Thunder and this year, there's a pretty good consensus that we needed to have our own time, just like JD needs to have its own time.
"We've sacrificed a little bit of practice time to be on our own, but I don't think it will hurt us."
The team also is still relatively small, with about 10 returnees and two new freshmen. Wilson expects the numbers to grow after the new Dimond Park Aquatic Center opens next year.
"I look at this squad and we are young still, and we're also small in numbers. When it comes to challenging in Southeast and for state, that's a challenge without the numbers," he said. We can't battle that right now but I see a bright future for Thunder. Hopefully the coaching staff will stay in place for a while so we have that consistency, and the fact that the new pool opens up possibly next March, the kids have already started somewhat looking forward to that.
"Hopefully we can christen it with some wins."
But Wilson cautioned against looking forward too much, instead focusing on what's happening now. And he's looking forward to seeing his kids in action for the first time this weekend in a meet at Craig.
"We have two new freshmen and a lot of returnees," he said. "And we added Nicole O'Brien to our staff, and she swam many years with the Glacier Swim Club. There are six of us going this weekend and I'm not sure that Craig has hosted a meet before, so this is really going to be a fun experience for everybody."
Senior Anna Bullock returns as the girls' captain after a state appearance last year in the 100-meter back stroke.
"She's committed and came into the season in pretty decent shape. They all have," Wilson said. "I was wondering how good of shape we were going to be in but our first day of dry-land (workouts), they picked it right up. Our practices have been intense.
"And Jimmie Busch is our boys' captain," he continued. "Look for good things from these guys as far as leadership. They've already taken on that challenge."
Bullock said she's been working on her stroke in anticipation of a return trip to state in November.
"I think I'm doing pretty well," she said. "My turns have gotten a lot quicker and my under-water push-offs and streamline have gotten a lot better, and that's what I've been focusing on."
Though small in size with only four girls, Bullock said the team is putting in the work to improve.
"The girls are really dedicated and that was one of my biggest worries, that they weren't going to show up at 6:30 in the morning to get their butts whipped into shape. But they have been so that's good."
Busch said the boys' team is working equally as hard, and he attributes that to the smaller size of the team.
"I think we're working harder than we were last year," he said. "I guess as a smaller team, it's harder to slack off. We are more organized. And Jason has been a really good coach by putting in harder practices and workouts."
Dive coach Tim Fraychineaud said his four divers are working on their competition list, which is the six dives they must perform at meets.
"It's a young team but they're learning fast. We're trying to build the program and we're really looking forward to the new pool opening next year so we can get a lot more board time," he said. "They are working hard and having fun, but we're always looking for more kids to join the team."
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