Now it's the boys' turn

Posted: Thursday, November 04, 2010

The girls had their chance last year, now it's the guys' turn.

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Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire

For the first time in the school's short history, the Thunder Mountain swim team is sending two boys to the 2010 ASAA/First National Bank Alaska State Swimming and Diving Championships in Anchorage, and junior Tanner Olliff and freshman Calvin Walsh said they couldn't be more proud.

"We're coming up," Olliff said. "We're very excited and ready to show what the guys can do, and maybe we can bring home a medal or two and put Thunder Mountain on the map."

Olliff, who will compete in the 100-yard breaststroke, said he's been a swimmer for most of his life, but never in a competitive arena such as this. He arrived in Juneau in time for his freshman year of high school and decided he wanted to join the swim team.

"Before I moved up to Juneau I lived in Arizona, and it was just kind of like a summer thing to swim," he said. "Seeing how competitive it is here and how much fun it was, I decided to give it a shot and see if I was any good.

"Now I'm going to state."

Olliff, whose family moved to Juneau after his father found a job with the state of Alaska, said he chose Thunder Mountain because he saw promise in the new program.

"Thunder Mountain had a good swim team starting up and I just thought, 'Maybe I can go over there and help them get started, and see what I can do,'" he said. "It was just something new and I saw a lot of potential and good people."

But for Walsh, born and raised in Juneau, the decision-making process was different. He's been swimming with the Glacier Swim Club since he was 8 years old, so he knows first-hand of the dominance of Juneau-Douglas program. Still, he said, he wanted to try something new.

"Juneau-Douglas is just really old - my mom went there," he said with a smile. "Plus, it's just a new school."

But regardless of school, Walsh said it's always been about swimming.

"I've always loved the water," he said. "I remember as a little kid I'd fill up the sink and just play in the water. Then my grandpa would take me down (to Augustus Brown Pool) every week."

Walsh lives with his grandparents in Juneau, and he said they've been supportive of him his whole life when it's come to swimming. Now he's here as a freshman making his first appearance at state. While he feels it's a good accomplishment at such a young age, he remains humble and chooses to deflect the attention.

"It feels good," he said. "But I know some of my friends are really fast, too. Maybe we'll all get to state soon."

As far as his thoughts about swimming against Juneau-Douglas, the school his mother attended, Walsh was a man of few words.

"It just makes it all that much more fun," he said.

When he's out of the pool, Walsh is like most kids his age. He likes to play video games and get outside whenever possible, but he has more interest in the classroom than your typical freshman.

"I love history," he said. "We can base what we do today off the mistakes they made in the past so we don't do them again."

Despite the age difference between the two, Olliff shares similar hobbies in his personal time.

"I like to ski and hang out with friends - I guess the normal things teenagers like to do," he laughed.

But given the fact Olliff is a junior, he's had a little more time to think about his future. He said the people around him have influenced him greatly when it comes to academic and career choices. After speaking so highly of the coaches he's been around during his time in Juneau, Olliff said he'd like to coach someday.

"I'm looking to go to college for a degree in physical education," he said. "The University of Nevada-Las Vegas has a very good program that I've been looking into, along with some other smaller schools.

"I've had a lot of great coaches in swimming, and just seeing them help other kids become swimmers, it's led me that way," he continued. "I want to help other kids find their talents and bring them out."

For now his goals are simpler: reach the finals in the 100 breaststroke.

And with the state swim meet rapidly approaching, Walsh also hopes to perform well in the pool. But he also said he sees swimming in his long-term future as well.

"I definitely feel I can keep going and keep improving," he said. "I've built up to where I'm faster than I was when I was with GSC."

And that's the goal for the Thunder Mountain swim team: get faster with each meet. Walsh and Olliff both agreed that if they continue to progress like they have, the future looks bright for the Falcons.

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