The Juneau-Douglas High School boys and girls swim teams will have to use different strategies in their bids for state titles this weekend.
The Crimson Bear boys, who tied for the state championship two years ago, hope their small but top-loaded team has enough firepower to win the squad's third state title. The Juneau girls don't have as many potential event-winners as the boys, so they'll rely on their depth as the team with the most state qualifiers in their quest for a second crown
The state swim meet opens at 2 p.m. today with the swimming preliminaries, followed with the diving preliminaries about 5:30 p.m. at Bartlett High School in Anchorage. The swimming and diving finals start at 1 p.m. on Saturday. The Crimson Bears had 22 swimmers and divers - nine boys and 13 girls - qualify in 34 individual events and five relays for the state meet. Two boys won't travel for budget reasons because they are underclassmen and relay-team alternates.
"The other schools are putting it together, so we'll have to step it up," Juneau coach John Wray said. "Our kids are going up there with confidence, and we proved in October (at the Bartlett Invitational) that we could race with anybody."
Even though the Juneau boys have a small squad, the Crimson Bears have three of the meet's top seeds and several swimmers close to the top seed. In a year with no dominant boys team, that could be enough to win the meet. When Juneau won the state title in 1984, it only had six swimmers at the meet, though not as many swimmers qualified for state in those days. When Juneau tied with Soldotna two years ago, it qualified nine swimmers for state.
"In the boys meet, I think Lathrop and Kodiak would say they've got a chance to win," Wray said, adding that East Anchorage also has a chance to dethrone Service as state champion this year. "The rest of the talent is spread out."
The Crimson Bears open the meet with the top seed in the 200-yard medley relay, which will feature sophomore Kyle O'Brien (backstroke), senior Abe Levy (breaststroke), senior Tyler Hennon (butterfly) and senior Q Smyth (freestyle). Smyth is the top seed in the 100 free (and second seed in the 50 free), while O'Brien and Hennon are seeded 1-2 in the 500 free. Juneau's 400 free relay team - the same quartet in a different order - held the state's top time most of the season, but it will be seeded a close fourth (by just over a second) in the meet's final race.
"We're pumped, we're excited," Hennon said. "It's looking really good."
"I think we've got a good shot at it," Smyth said. "It's going to be close. It seems like a lot of teams have one or two top guys, but they fall off after that."
For the boys to win, they'll need their big three of Smyth, O'Brien and Hennon - O'Brien is seeded third in the 200 free and Hennon is seeded third in the 200 individual medley - to perform well and maybe win three or four events. Juneau also will need to win both of its relays, which count double points. They'll also need their other swimmers to make the finals and score points. Junior Matt Josephson is seeded fourth in the 100 back, Levy is seeded sixth in the 100 fly and ninth in the 200 IM, and junior Travis Blair is seeded 10th in the 100 breast. The top eight finishers in each event score points.
"I think four teams have got a shot, but we'll have some fun," Levy said. "I think our 400 free relay has to improve."
The only other top seed from Southeast in the boys meet is by Sitka senior Matt Way in the 100 breast, the defending champion in the event. Way is seeded second behind Smyth in the 100 free. Sitka also has the second-seeded teams in the 200 medley and 200 free relays. Freshman diver Ryan Borup of Ketchikan is seeded second in his event.
In the girls meet, no Southeast swimmers have top seeds. But Juneau has several swimmers seeded second through fourth and in some events, such as diving, has as many as four entrants. Lathrop is the defending state champion, but Service has a very top-loaded team and is the favorite.
"Service should run away with it," Wray said. "It's possible for Service to win two-thirds of the individual events. Lathrop won its region and Dimond's depth made it close to Service in the region meet."
Juneau's top chances for individual titles will come from senior Marnita Coenraad in the diving (seeded second), senior Kelsey Potdevin (seeded third in the 50 free and fourth in the 100 back), sophomore Amanda Jones (seeded third in the 200 IM), freshman Kristin Jones (seeded second in the 500 free and third in the 200 free) and freshman Melissa Bogert (seeded third in the 100 fly). The Crimson Bear girls qualified all three relay teams for state, with the 400 free relay ranked second and the 200 medley and 200 free relay teams seeded fourth.
"I'm pretty excited. Hopefully I can drop some time and win it," Kristin Jones said of her 500 free. "I think we've got a lot of chances for reaching the podium."
"Where we fall in is once you get past Kelsey and Marnita, we have a real young team," Wray said.
Most of Juneau's state qualifiers are freshmen or sophomores, so the state meet will be a chance for the younger athletes to get big-meet experience.
"I think we can do pretty good," freshman Lia Heifetz said. "When we set our goals early in the season, one of them was for the girls to get into the top three."
"I'm feeling really good about how we're seeded," said sophomore Kacey Klein, who is making her second trip to state. "I think when we go up there we've got an equal chance to win. This time will be easier because I know what to expect. I think the whole team is pretty pumped."
The other top seeds from Southeast are held by Ketchikan's Elizabeth Jagusch, who is third in the 100 breast, and Petersburg's Abbey Jackson, who is third in the 100 back. The complete list of state qualifiers can be found on the Web at http://www.akswimming.org.
Charles Bingham can be reached at email@example.com.