The Thunder Mountain High School athletics program continues to pick up steam in its second year, and the Falcons swim team is the latest group to see improvement from the first season.
The boys' team finished in sixth place at the Region V swim meet in Petersburg with 15 total points, and the girls' side earned 16 points and finished in fifth place overall. But despite the low team placement, both freshman Calvin Walsh and junior Tanner Olliff earned automatic bids to next weekend's state meet at Bartlett, one year after Thunder Mountain qualified just one swimmer.
But last year's qualifier, senior Anna Bullock, will not be making a return trip. Falcons coach Jason Wilson said his lone senior has been a great asset on such a young team. He said she's been a perfect fit for the role of leader among her teammates since the first day in the pool.
"She definitely filled that role very well, and she was a leader as far as pushing the kids in practice. She was always one of the first to be there for encouragement, and that teaches the other young kids what it takes to get to the next level," Wilson said. "So losing her really is a big deal for our club. She's been the backbone since the start of Thunder Mountain swimming."
He said her example has set the path for other Thunder Mountain swimmers to follow, and Wilson also said the best is yet to come for this program. In the case of Walsh, however, the future is now.
"It's been a very impressive season for him. Calvin had his own issues - some medical issues - where he had to actually take a little time off from swimming," he said. "So he's really bounced back from other challenges very well."
Walsh will be racing the 200- and 500-yard freestyle and is expected to be seeded seventh in each event. Olliff will race the 100 breaststroke. A full list of state qualifiers has yet to be released, but at this time Wilson said he believes these are the only two swimmers who will be traveling to Bartlett. And while the number of state qualifiers is still low, Wilson said he is encouraged by his team's progress this season.
"Our placement in the meet may not show it, but we have a great base for this program and we're going to grow in the next couple of years," he said. "The kids swam great. I thought our energy was very good on Friday and we had a lot of best times.
"It's a young group that is high-character and has worked hard all season."
Walsh posted a finals time of 1:53.01 and 5:15.56 in the 200 and 500 free, respectively, good enough for third and fourth place. Olliff took sixth place in the 100 breaststroke with a time of 1:07.99. Check the Juneau Empire sports section for more state qualifier information as it becomes available.
The 2010 State Swimming and Diving Championships run Nov. 5-6 in Anchorage at the Bartlett High School pool.