The Juneau-Douglas High School swimming and diving team has a lot at stake when it hosts the Southeast Region Swimming and Diving Championships this weekend at Augustus G. Brown Swimming Pool.
The Crimson Bear girls will be looking for their 12th straight team championship when the preliminary heats open at 6 p.m. today and finals start at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday. The Juneau boys are after their fourth title in a row.
But there's much more at stake than a chance to repeat as region champions. The results of this region meet will be used to qualify swimmers for the state meet Nov. 5-6 in Anchorage.
"Although it would be nice to win (regions), our main focus is state," said Juneau senior Tyler Hennon, the boys team captain. "We want to get our swimmers qualified for the most events possible."
"We just want everyone to get good times so they can go to state," added Juneau senior Kelsey Potdevin, the girls team captain. "We want to get a lot of people to state."
Each of the region individual event champions from around Alaska will earn automatic berths to the state meet. Then, the next 11 or 12 individual swimmers from around the state (depending on whether there are swimmers from western Alaska) will earn at-large berths for a total of 16 swimmers in each event. In relays, the region champions and next three or four teams at-large will earn state berths for a total of eight relay teams.
The Juneau girls should have little problem repeating as region champions, since their team is much deeper than any of the other squads in Southeast. The only Juneau losses in region competition this season came during a weekend when most of the top Crimson Bears stayed home. Otherwise, Juneau more than doubled the team scores of its nearest opponents.
"The girls understand we've got a strong team," Juneau head coach John Wray said. "What I've tried to get across to them is they all have individual goals they need to reach."
The Crimson Bear girls will be led by Potdevin in the 50-yard freestyle and the 100 backstroke, freshman Kristin Jones in the 200 free and 500 free, and senior Marnita Coenraad in the 1-meter springboard diving event. Wray said he felt all three athletes had decent chances to win their events.
Darkhorse candidates for region titles include sophomore Amanda Jones and freshman Melissa Bogert in the 200 individual medley, while freshman Sara Bogert looks strong in the 200 free and Melissa Bogert looks good in the 100 butterfly, Wray said. He also thinks Juneau can sweep all three of the girls relay events.
"We're looking awesome, of course. We're psyched for this weekend," Potdevin said. "Everyone's looking strong. Kristin is swimming really well, and Sara swam a broken 200 free in 1:59 in practice.
"We just want everyone to know you can never slack off. From prelims to finals, we want to get fast times in. If you get a good time in prelims, it helps your confidence so you can get a good time in the finals. We just have to believe we can get those times."
Besides the Juneau swimmers, other top contenders in the region include Ketchikan's Elizabeth Jagusch and Petersburg's Carole Triem. Genny Szymanski of Haines and her younger sister Anna both have some of the state's top times, but they won't compete in the region meet because their family is in Pennsylvania.
The boys team race will be a lot closer, since Juneau and Sitka have split meets on the same weekend more than once this season. The Crimson Bears have more swimmers ranked in the state's top swimmer list this season, but the Wolves have more depth and Juneau may not be able to counter Sitka's numbers.
"I think it's Sitka's to lose. They have numbers we can't match," Wray said. "I haven't seen the heat sheets yet, but all I can do is hope for a few of our guys to do better than expected, Ketchikan helps us out and Sitka stumbles in a couple of events."
"We're hoping for great results, but they've got the numbers," Hennon said.
Juneau will run two of its top swimmers in the 500 free - sophomore Kyle O'Brien, the state's top swimmer in the event, and Hennon, who was the top swimmer earlier this season and now ranks third in the state. O'Brien also will swim in the 200 free, while Hennon will compete in the 200 IM. Senior Q Smyth is entered in the 50 free and 100 free, both events where he had the state's top times earlier this season.
The Crimson Bears have two of the state's top-ranked relays - the 200 medley and the 400 free. Sitka was ranked No. 1 in the other relay - the 200 free - until being passed this week, and ranks second behind Juneau in the 200 medley relay.
The meet could come down to how Juneau's other swimmers do. The Crimson Bears only have 11 boys out for the team, but Matt Josephson, Abe Levy and Travis Blair also have been listed in the statewide rankings at times this season.
"It's a situation where our top three (Hennon, O'Brien and Smyth) can win a number of events, but Sitka can get a lot of seconds, thirds and fourths to beat us," Wray said. "The 100 free is a toss-up. Q is swimming well, but (Sitka's) Matt Way has to be the favorite. Matt Josephson is in a good situation in the backstroke and can win, Abe Levy can win the butterfly, and Travis Blair can make state and have a good day, they all have the ability."
Sitka is led by Way, who has the state's top time in the 100 breaststroke and is the defending state champion. Other top contenders include Alex Dailey and Ben Campen of Sitka, and diver Ryan Borup of Ketchikan.
Charles Bingham can be reached at email@example.com.