After competing in six different road meets this season, the Juneau-Douglas High School swimming and diving team finally gets a chance to enjoy some home cooking.
The Crimson Bears host Sitka, Petersburg, Craig, Ketchikan, Cordova and South Anchorage for meets this weekend. The first meet runs 6:30 p.m. Friday with the second at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at Augustus Brown swimming pool.
"I think it'll be the most important meet so far," JDHS junior Kyle O'Brien said. "The environment when you're at your home meet really gets you going. Especially with regionals coming up, this gives us a chance to get a lot of good entry times in. It's a fast pool."
The Region V meet takes place Oct. 28 and 29 at Sitka.
In the meantime, JDHS coach John Wray has worked his team very hard to prepare themselves for not just their lone home meet of the year, but for the upcoming regional and state tournaments.
On Wednesday, Wray ran his team through an arduous drill named "Drop Like Flies." With two swimmers in each lane, Wray had them work through 12 heats of 75-yard hard swims with little rest.
"Our girls, we put all eight girls in one meet and for 12 times they're going after each other," Wray said. "It teaches the kids concentration, how to push themselves and gets them into race mode."
The JDHS girls team has been a powerful force this season and boasts a number of swimmers on the state's top 16 list, which tracks the fastest times of the year.
After falling one point shy of a state championship last year, the team wants to bring home the first-place trophy this season.
"I think we're in a good position right now," JDHS junior Erika O'Sullivan said "We're in a good position to win state. We have girls on the top 16 that are pretty much guaranteed to go to state. Our girls are looking very strong right now."
The girls are a very young team but are talented in a variety of events.
Sophomore Kristen Jones is in the top five in five different events this season and holds Alaska's fastest time in the 500-yard freestyle by more than three and a half seconds.
Sophomores Amber Kelly, Melissa Bogert, Sara Bogert and Lia Heifetz, along with juniors Amanda Jones and Julia DiCostanzo, have all posted top 10 times this year.
Freshman Linzie Norman has also contributed on a strong girls' team.
With such a young team, Wray wants his team to concentrate on performing well each day.
"Keep your feet on the ground and go one day at a time," Wray said. "Their goal is to win state, that's their stated goal. I'm telling them that if we come back with a trophy - I don't care if it's the GPA or the sportsmanship trophy - we did well."
The Juneau-Douglas boys are looking to defend their state championship.
The Crimson Bears barely have any depth, and that's resulted in plenty of second and third place team finishes. But they have one of the best pound-for-pound teams in the state.
Despite a small roster, each swimmer pushed themselves to the limit throughout the season.
"We're getting tired, but we're getting tired because we're working hard and getting faster," O'Brien said. "So the more tired we get, the more that keeps us going."
O'Brien owns the state's best times in the 200 freestyle, 100 freestyle, 100 butterfly and 500 freestyle. He's second in the 200 individual medley and the 100 backstroke as well.
O'Brien, however, isn't the entire team.
Swimmers like Matt Josephson and exchange student Yuichi Sato have helped make JDHS a threat to repeat.
Nathan Ord, Jon Wendel and Travis Blair provided quality depth this season.
While JDHS excelled individually this season, it's the relays where the Crimson Bears are truly setting themselves apart for the field.
Juneau captured the 200 IM relay title Saturday at the Bartlett/Chugiak Invitational as Josephson, Blair, O'Brien and Wendel touched the wall at 1:54.74. The Bears then took the 400 freestyle relay title as Wendel, O'Brien, Sato and Josephson won by more than two seconds.
"The other teams have the numbers," O'Brien said, "but our strength is in our quality."
Tim Nichols, sports editor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org