With the first half of the season behind it, the Juneau-Douglas High School swimming and diving team heads into the meat of its schedule with a pair of double-dual meets in Anchorage at Service High School today and Saturday.
Tonight, Juneau swims against Service and Dimond while Saturday matches Juneau against Service and Homer. The triple double-dual format, rarely used in Alaska high school swimming, allows three teams to swim in a single meet, with the meet scored as three separate head-to-head dual meets.
This weekend will be the only chance for the Crimson Bears to see competition in Anchorage before the state meet at Bartett High School on Nov. 9-10. Juneau hosts its own invitational meet next weekend, followed by the Region V meet in Sitka on Nov. 2-3.
"It should be interesting. We just want to show our kinds they can compete against some strong schools," Juneau head swim coach John Wray said. "We would like to pull one out, but mostly it will be nice to see of different competition from the Southeast."
The Service girls and the Dimond boys are the defending state champions, while the Dimond girls placed second at last year's state meet. The Service boys placed fourth and the Homer boys took sixth, all ahead of the Juneau boys' eighth-place and the girls' 12th-place finishes.
But teams change from year-to-year in high school sports and Juneau hopes to surprise the Anchorage powerhouses.
"The Dimond boys lost a lot of people to graduation," Wray said. "Service is pretty strong and it will be interesting to see how Homer will do. We think we could have a chance to pull out a win, mainly with boys. The Service girls are just too strong."
The Crimson Bears should get an added boost from two athletes who return to action from injuries. Junior Ryan Stidolph, last year's top boy diver, will make his first appearance of the year and sophomore Heather Harris, who placed seventh in the 500-yard freestyle at the state meet last year, is back from a shoulder injury.
"Heather hurt her shoulder pretty significantly this winter," Wray said. "She's been swimming really well and might surprise herself this week. Ryan had a series of problems but should do reasonably well."
For the boys, Juneau's strongest events should be the 100-yard breaststroke and the 200-yard freestyle. Freshman Paul Hughes and sophomore Olin Robus have posted the state's fifth- and 11th-best times, respectively, in the 100 breaststroke this year.
Junior Jake Kreuzenstein and senior Forrest Preston give the Crimson Bears a tough 1-2 punch in the 200 free. Kreuzenstein swam the fourth-best time in the state in the event this year and Preston, who has had a slow start, posted the 18th-best time. Kreuzenstein also has top-10 times in the 200-yard individual medley (sixth) and the 500-yard freestyle (fifth) and sophomore Kirk Fishel has posted the eighth-best time in the 100-yard backstroke.
"Forrest has started the season slow, but I expect to see a drop in his times this weekend," Wray said. "Forrest and Jake will be a strong event for us."
The 500-yard freestyle should be a one of the best events for the Crimson Bear girls with junior Weather Potdevin and either Harris or Lisse Focht. Potdevin has the state's sixth-best time in the state this year.
The Crimson Bear girls should also find success in the 100-yard backstroke, where three swimmers -- senior Christina DiCostanzo, sophomore Natalie Hale and junior Martha Kaiser all have top-20 times this year.
Last week, most of the varsity swimmer did not travel to the Ketchikan Invitational. Instead, they stayed home and put in laps at the Augustus Brown Swim Pool, while a group of predominately freshmen made the trip to gain some much-needed meet experience. Thirty-seven of the 41 individual swims at the meet were personal-best times by Crimson Bear swimmers.
However, according to Wray, the season is starting to take its toll on the Juneau student-athletes.
"The kids are pretty beat up and tired," Wray said. "What they have to do is keep focused on their ultimate goals, whether that be regions or state -- whatever it is for them. Some will start tapering off the last week of October. Right now they are swimming hard."
Jeff Kasper can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.