ANCHORAGE - Juneau-Douglas High School senior Kyle O'Brien capped off one of the finest swimming careers in school history by making a little history of his own.
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O'Brien broke the state's oldest record Saturday at the Alaska School Activities Association State Swimming and Diving Championships in Anchorage. The senior successfully defended his 200-yard freestyle title with a winning time of 1:41.17. His time broke the old record of 1:42.69, set by West Valley's Andrew Billings in 1985. For O'Brien, reaching the elusive record proved the perfect coda to an outstanding career.
"I feel finished," O'Brien said after the race. "That's what I came here to do and I did it."
O'Brien was named the meet's outstanding male swimmer as JDHS took third overall. Southeast Conference rival Sitka won a second-straight state title."
The senior attacked the race immediately, and quickly distanced himself from the other swimmers en route to the title. When he finally reached the wall, O'Brien pumped his fist then quickly embraced JDHS coach John Wray.
"I was nervous, but as our coach tells us to do, I was using the nervousness to get myself pumped up," O'Brien said. "Nervousness isn't a bad thing. It happens to everybody. I wanted the record really bad and I wanted to do anything to get it. That's all I was thinking about it."
He capped off his evening by winning a second-straight 100 freestyle title with a time of 47.13.
"He's probably the best freestyler the school's ever had," Wray said.
O'Brien also helped lead Juneau's youthful crew of freshman to success in the relay events. O'Brien - along with Seth Cayce, Cody Brunette and Nick Rutecki - placed second to Sitka in the 200 medley relay. That same quartet also took second to the Wolves in the 200 relay. By hanging tight with Sitka, Juneau's freshmen proved they could perform on the state's biggest stage. Brunette almost pulled off a shocking upset en route to a second-place finish in the 100 butterfly. The freshman trailed in fifth place before a quick turn at the 50-yard mark vaulted him to the lead. Brunette appeared poised to take the title by Chugiak's David Henry out-touched him at the wall to win by four-tenths of a second.
"I wanted to get first, but it was a good race," Brunette said. "I don't think I could've gone any faster so I'm pretty happy."
While Juneau's relay teams both finished second to a senior-laden Sitka squad, Brunette expressed optimism about the future of the boys team.
"In all our competitions, we've been racing three freshmen against four seniors in relays," Brunette said. "Next year they'll all be gone. We'll definitely have more of a chance."
Brunette also took fourth in the 100 backstroke. Cayce made it to the final in two events - placing fifth in the 200 intermediate medley and eighth in the 100 backstroke. Rutecki garnered fifth-place honors in the 100 freestyle. In the diving competition, JDHS sophomore Nathan Teal reached the finals and placed eighth overall. The Crimson Bears also won the academic award for having the highest GPA of the team's competing at state.
While JDHS excelled with a small squad, the day clearly belonged to Sitka. The Wolves won the title with 85 points, holding off East Anchorage by just 14 points.
"It was a lot tougher this year when you have a target on your back and everyone is gunning for you," said Sitka coach Robby Lambill, who was named the meet's outstanding boys coach. "Last year, we knew we were strong but anything could happen. The win last year was great, but it was a lot more stressful this year when everyone gunning for you."
Led by seniors Gavin McGowan, Ben Campen, Alex Dailey, Ben Adams and five others, Sitka used its superior strength to power its way to a title. The Wolves won all three relays and Campen captured the 100 backstroke in 1:00.07 on Saturday.
"It was harder," Campen said. "This is most of our senior years a lot of people were out to get us."
Tim Nichols, sports editor, can be reached at email@example.com
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