All season long the Juneau-Douglas High School swimmers and divers have been checking out the list of the state's top-20 swim times, trying to see where they stand in comparison to the rest of Alaska's swimmers.
This weekend, the Crimson Bears will finally get a chance to actually see their competition as they head off to the Palmer Invitational swim meet Friday and Saturday at Palmer High School. The meet will bring together 12 teams -- Juneau and 11 teams from Region III, which includes state powerhouses like Soldotna. Other teams at the meet include Homer, Valdez, Skyview, Kenai, Kodiak, Seward, Cordova, Palmer, Colony and Wasilla.
"SoHi (Soldotna) pretty much dominates their region," Juneau coach John Wray said. "Their boys team will be in the top-three at the state championships, and their girls team is tough."
Wray said Homer's girls have been pushing Soldotna this year, plus there's enough individual talent scattered through the other teams to "make this a very competitive test for the Crimson Bears." Valdez also has a couple of top individuals, in addition to being coached by former Ketchikan swimmer Brad Hagen.
After seeing most of the same Southeast swimmers every week, the Crimson Bears said they're ready to swim head-to-head against some new competition. It's one thing to compare times with other swimmers from across the state, but it's another to actually swim side-by-side with them.
"It's fun to go to races where there are different people," Juneau sophomore Martha Kaiser said. "We already know some of them (the Region III swimmers). But it's just fun to get out of Southeast. We don't get to get out of the region that much."
"We're happy for something instead of Southeast," Juneau senior Chad Walter said. "This is it, this and state."
The meet will be a two-day event, with preliminaries held on Friday and finals held on Saturday.
"We're a very strong, very good team," Walter said.
Juneau will only take 18 swimmers to Palmer for the meet, so the Crimson Bears may not do as well as they could in the team standings. Juneau has three meets in successive weeks, so the coaches are spreading their swimmers out over the meets so everyone gets a weekend off.
"We just want to see if we make our own personal times better," Kaiser said.
But several of the Juneau swimmers going to the meet are ranked among the state's top 20, including Walter who moved up to the top spot in the boys 100-yard butterfly (for a complete list of the state's top-20 swimmers, please see the Scoreboard on Page 10). Other ranked Crimson Bear boys Forrest Preston, Jake Kreuzenstein, Kirk Fishel, Ryan Stidolph, Reid Harris and Olin Robus.
Soldotna's boys dominate the state's top-20 list, with Joshua Gemmell and Lucas Peterson both ranked among the state's top three in several events. Other top boys swimmers include Palmer's Dirk Craft; Luke Thomas and Szabi Ashoth of Valdez; Blake Mann-Schweigert, Nick Sorrell and Leo Grasso of Soldotna; and Jake Bell and Ben Kuhns of Homer, among others. Top divers include Kelly Mogg of Kodiak, Matt Medina of Soldotna and Robert Knapp of Palmer.
On the girls side, Juneau doesn't have any top-ranked swimmers. But several Crimson Bears are ranked, like Kaiser, Heather Harris, Weather Potdevin, Lisse Focht, Annie Fox, Christina DiCostanzo, and divers Kylie Manning and Emily Steadman.
Soldotna doesn't have the individually dominant female swimmers like it does in Gemmell and Peterson, but there are a few who are high in the rankings like Jenna Syverson, Abby Kiffmeyer and Karina Petersen. Valdez's Katie Fair has the state's top 100 breaststroke time, with Homer's Monica Ulmer in second. Other top swimmers at the meet include Colony's Sarah Brettrager, Caitlin Coleman of Valdez, Homer's Renae Rykaczewski and Erin Pate. Top divers at the meet are Richell Knapp of Palmer, Morgan Hansen of Kenai, Erin Orth of Soldotna and Rachel Knowles of Kenai.
"Racing against different teams allows us to break out of the subtle rut of racing against the same people every other week here in Southeast," Wray said. "The competition in Southeast is good and our kids benefit, but this trip has the value of being a dry run in preparation for the state championships in Anchorage in November (Nov. 10-11 at Bartlett High School)."