Juneau-Douglas hosts this weekend's swim and dive meet at Augustus Brown Swimming Pool, with several Crimson Bears competitors holding places in this week's 2010 Alaska High School Season Top 16 rankings with plenty of room for improvement before the region and state meets.
Coach Kathrin Millhorn said this weekend will be a good opportunity for the JDHS freshmen to get a shot at cracking into the Top 16 in front of the home crowd.
"I think this weekend is going to be a good thing for them. All of our freshmen will be here and they have not had a meet yet. They haven't had a chance to tackle the Top 16 list at all, and some of them are pretty fast so it will be an interesting meet for them for their first high school meet," she said. "They have the advantage, technically, because it's their home pool."
Southeast teams from Metlakatla, Craig, Sitka, Ketchikan, Petersburg and Juneau's own Thunder Mountain all will compete, along with Anchorage's East High School. The meet begins Friday at 6 p.m., and resumes Saturday at 4 p.m.
Junior Auri Clark said the girls feel good about their current standing, though there is a long way to go before the state meet Nov. 5-6 at Bartlett High School.
"I think it's going pretty well. Everyone starts out a little rough so hopefully we'll improve at this meet," she said. "Definitely when it comes to regions, hopefully a lot of girls will make the Top 16 list so we can have a good team and maybe place top three this year."
Individually, Clark holds four of the state's top times on this week's Top 16 list, her best coming in the 50-yard freestyle (26.28), currently good for seventh-best in the state. Clark also holds the eighth-best 100-yard backstroke time (1:04.10), the ninth-best 200-yard individual medley time (2:19.58) and the 14th-best 100-yard butterfly time (1:04.29).
"Hopefully I'll be able to drop from those times this weekend and do even better," she said. "So far, I think I'm right on track. Probably the 100 fly is my best event. I had a 59 (seconds) last year and I got fifth place, so I think top three or a 58 would be great for me."
Clark said the girls' team is confident heading into the meet and looking forward to being the host team instead of the visitor.
"We'll have people cheering us on so there will be a little extra pressure," she said. "But we're used to this pool so that will really help a lot. I think we can definitely win the meet if we try our best.
"I think our main goal is to stay positive, even if we don't get first place."
Senior Tyler Mickelson said it's all about earning respect for the JDHS boys' team, which finished first and second in the state the last two years, respectively, but has since graduated several key pieces from those teams.
"We're expecting some pretty fierce competition coming from Anchorage, and all of Southeast is coming. We're expecting Petersburg to bring the heat, but it's a home meet so we'll have all of our swimmers here. We'll respond," he said. "We're hoping to show everybody that we're still here; that we can compete for state and that we're not just a joke. Even though we lost our top dogs, we still have some people coming up."
Mickelson currently holds the state's second-fastest 100 fly time (54.63). He also sits sixth in both the 50 free (22.90) and the 500 free (5:15.98, and eighth in the 100-yard breaststroke (1:06.30). Mickelson and Petersburg's Preston Marsh, who holds the state's fifth-best 100 fly time (55.68), will go head to head this weekend.
"My favorite event would have to be the 100 fly and my rival would be Winter Heaven (Kenai), but I'm hoping to make an upset at state. I'm pretty close to my best times and I'm not truly rested, so I think I'll be able to shatter them," Mickelson said. "Preston Marsh is doing pretty well. He's only a junior but he's really fast."
The JDHS dive teams also will be in on the act this weekend. Senior Samantha Sharp currently holds the fourth-best composite score of 194.55.
"We're working on our approaches a lot, trying to get them strong for competition," she said. "We're getting a lot of high-difficulty dives. Everyone on the team is supportive of each other and we keep each other in line."
Sharp said her front one and a half, inward dive pike and front double are her strongest dives, while her back one and a half, reverse one and a half and inward one and a half need the most work.
"I definitely have a long way to go," Sharp said. "I have three dives in particular I think I should work on to be able to place well (at state), and maybe learn a few new dives. If I compete well, I should be able to place at least top three or top four."
Dive coach Hans Marx said last weekend's dive-only meet at Petersburg was helped a great deal.
"We have three months to smother them with as much diving as possible, and it seems to pay off when we can do two days with five hours a day of just diving. It really sinks in more," he said. "I'm looking forward to the home meet and hopefully they'll be more relaxed having the homefield advantage, so to speak.
"Every board is different at every pool, so a lot of it is getting used to the board, its timing and rhythm. Hopefully that will translate well for us this weekend."
The season is at its midpoint, and Millhorn said most of the team will start its rest cycle in a few weeks.
"I think it's really interesting to put into perspective that we have three and a half weeks of hard work left, and then we'll start our rest cycle with the majority of the kids," she said. "I don't think that they have thought about that. From an athletic perspective, they're hurting right now. They're tired and most of them are sore."
Millhorn said the team as a whole is showing the most improvement exploding off the block on starts and off walls, and their strokes are starting to come together.
"Their strokes look really good," she said. "Most of them are swimming what we call 'stealthy' - they are quiet strokes and not into thrashing. It's about being more effective in the water. It's interesting to watch because it's just been the last week or so that I've noticed the strokes are coming together."