The Juneau-Douglas High School swimming and diving teams begin their Region V title defenses on Friday when the Crimson Bears head to Sitka to open their season against teams from Craig, Ketchikan, Petersburg and Sitka.
Thirty-nine swimmers and divers are participating this season for the Crimson Bears and according to head swim coach John Wray, the numbers are pretty typical of the numbers in the past.
The girls squad easily won the Southeast title last season, out-scoring region runner-up Petersburg by 50 points, and despite the loss of their top diver Kylie Manning to graduation, should be a cinch to win yet another title.
"I can't even remember how many consecutive region titles we've won," Wray said. "In the 10 years I've been here, I think we've won every time. We should have a strong girls team. We only lost a very good diver and a couple others from last year."
The girls return four individual region champions from last season. Senior Christina DiCostanzo won the 200-yard individual medley, junior Martha Kaiser is the reigning 100-yard freestyle champ, sophomore Lisse Focht won the 200-yard freestyle and sophomore Heather Harris claimed the 500-yard freestyle title.
Several other swimmers -- including senior team captain Annie Fox, who will compete in sprints, and junior freestyler Weather Potdevin -- should give the Crimson Bears a strong core of swimmers.
Wray is also excited about the addition of the new freshman. "For the freshman girls, Weather Potdevin's younger sister Kelsey will also be in the mix this year."
But Wray says the strength of the girls team is their depth.
"We have a big advantage over the other southeast schools because we have a larger group to draw from," Wray said. "We will win a handful of events and so will Sitka, Petersburg and Ketchikan, but we'll get second, third and fourth and win the meet."
Other returning girls swimmers who placed in last year's region meet include: junior Kaitlin Kreuzenstein (500 freestyle, 100 breastroke), sophomore Robyn Grayson (100 breaststroke), sophomore Natalie Hale (100 butterfly) and sophomore Jenny Trucano (100 and 200 freestyle).
The girls diving team will be anchored by two senior divers in Liz Brooks and Rebecca Canaday, both in their fourth year of diving. Freshmen Katlyn Bausler and Marnita Coenraad are new this season.
"I think the (diving) competition in the region is going to be pretty slim," diving coach Cathy Tide said. "Sitka is the only other school to have divers and the coach left this year, so I'm not sure what they will have. But we're going to Anchorage in October and there will be good competition there."
The boys team was hurt a little more by graduation than the girls squad. Lost is standout Chad Walter, who took second at state in the 100-yard butterfly, as well as, Reid Harris and Jeremy Carpenter.
But all hope is not lost with the return of senior Forrest Preston, who won both the 200- and 500-yard freestyles at last year's region meet, junior Jake Kruezenstein (200 and 500 freestyle), sophomore Kirk Fishel (200 individual medley and 100 freestyle) and sophomore Olin Robus (100 freestyle, 100 breasktroke).
Last year, the boys won a very close Region V meet, scoring 97 points. Sitka was second with 87 points and Ketchikan was not far behind with 72 points, good for third place.
"The boys are no guarantee to repeat as Region champs," Wray said. "All of the Southeast schools will compete. Our advantage is depth. If they swim like they are capable, they should do well."
Juniors Guy Barnes (500 freestyle) and John Wagner (100 freestyle, 100 backstroke) and sophomore Joey Fox (50 freestyle, 100 backstroke) all placed at regions last year and will give the Crimson Bear boys depth.
Also, a fine group of freshman, led by Paul Hughes and Tyler Hennon, will need to make their presence felt early for Juneau to claim another Region V title.
"I'm really enthused about the freshman pack," Wray said. "We have some swimmers that will not only have an impact in the Southeast, but also in the state. Paul Hughes should qualify for state, if not win it."
The graduation of Sitka's Derek Harai, who dominated the boys diving event the past couple years, should open the door for Crimson Bears' junior Ryan Stidolph and sophomore Gabriel Kelley to claim the region diving championship. Stidolph placed third and Kelley placed fourth at last year's region meet.
First-year senior Gregory Albrecht and freshman Joseph Manning round out the boys' diving squad.
Wray says the Sitka meet will be good for the team to "get back into competition, see where people are and just have fun." He also gives a lot of credit to the Glacier Swim Club for getting a lot of swimmers interested in the sport at a young age.
"All of our top kids are from the Glacier Swim Club," Wray acknowledged. "Its great. Only nine of our kids don't swim year-round. It gives us a great advantage."