When the Juneau-Douglas High School boys swim team earned a share of the state title last year, the victory gave the Crimson Bears their first swimming state championship in 19 years.
The Crimson Bears want a shorter wait between titles this time.
The Juneau boys and girls swimming and diving teams are in Anchorage for the state meet today and Saturday at Bartlett High School. The boys hope to earn the team title outright this time - last year the Crimson Bears tied with the Soldotna Stars - and the girls hope to end a 20-year drought with their first crown since 1983.
"We're pretty psyched," freshman Kyle O'Brien said after Tuesday afternoon's practice at Augustus G. Brown Swimming Pool. "If everybody's swimming really well, we've got a pretty good shot."
Last year's state meet for the boys could not have been any closer, as seven teams entered the meet with legitimate shots at winning the title.
This year's meet could be just as close, as six teams - Lathrop, Service, Juneau, Kodiak, Soldotna and Ketchikan - qualified all three of their relays. Lathrop has the most individual event entries, with 18, followed by Juneau and Service with 14 individuals each, Dimond with 11, Kodiak with 10, Ketchikan with eight and Soldotna with six.
"For the guys, it's a long shot, realistically," Juneau coach John Wray said Wednesday. "But we'll go up and give it a go."
"I think it'll be a battle for a trophy," junior Tyler Hennon said Tuesday.
The Crimson Bears have just one top seed this year - the 200-yard medley relay team of Hennon, senior Olin Robus, O'Brien, junior Q Smyth and senior alternate Kirk Fishel - but it's in a relay event, which counts double-points for team scores. The relay is the first event of the meet, and a victory could give the Juneau boys the boost they need for the rest of their events.
"Our medley relay is balanced, and our time can definitely get faster," Smyth said. "We've got a shot at a (team) trophy. Anything can happen."
"I'm really looking forward to that race," O'Brien said.
The Juneau boys are seeded fourth in the 400 freestyle relay that closes the meet, while the Crimson Bears are seeded fifth in the 200 free relay.
Juneau's top-seeded individual boys, both third, are Robus in the 100 breaststroke and Hennon in the 500 free. The top eight finishers in each event score team points.
Hennon also qualified sixth in the 200 free, while Robus is seventh in the 200 individual medley. Fishel qualified in the 100 free and the 100 backstroke; he won the 100 back at state last year, but is still getting back into shape after missing most of the season due to health problems.
Other Crimson Bear boys to earn individual state bids are Smyth in the 100 free, O'Brien in the 200 and 500 free, senior Joey Fox in the 100 back and junior Tom Josephson in the 500 free.
Three Juneau boys qualified in diving, led by senior Patrick Hoke (sixth). Senior Nathan Schroeder and junior Gabe Kelley will also dive for the Crimson Bears.
Hennon said the Crimson Bears all have room to drop their times, since they've been backing off their training the last week or two.
"It's part of our taper," Hennon said. "Hopefully we're at our peak. John (Wray) sets it up that way so people are fresh."
"We're going to rest for the next couple of days," Wray said Wednesday. "A number of our swimmers in Ketchikan (at the Region V meet) still were not rested. There's so much to do with a taper. You want to get them enough rest without losing their fitness. They work really hard all season, so you want to give them a break without them losing their edge."
Juneau isn't the only Southeast squad with a top seed in a boys event.
Ben Voetberg of Ketchikan is ranked No. 1 in both the 100 free and the 100 back, while Matt Way of Sitka is the No. 2 swimmer in the 100 breast and has been the state's top-ranked swimmer in the event all season. Sitka's Carrington Gorman is ranked second in the 50 free. The Wolves qualified two relay teams and seven individuals, while Craig earned its first two individual boys state entries in school history.
In last year's state girls meet, Soldotna upset two-time champion Service by two points by taking advantage of a Service relay disqualification.
This year, Service is the team to beat with three relays and 18 individual entries. The only other girls team to qualify all three relays was Dimond, which has 15 individual entries. Juneau has two relays and 15 individual entrants; Lathrop has two relays and nine highly ranked individuals; and Soldotna and Homer have two relays and eight individual entrants each.
Juneau's best shot in an event will come with its second-seeded 200 free relay team of freshman Julia DiCostanzo, senior Heather Harris, freshman Kacey Klein, junior Kelsey Potdevin and freshman alternate Amanda Jones. Juneau's other relay swim will come in the 400 free relay, which is seeded eighth.
"We're excited," DiCostanzo said. "I think our 200 free relay is really close to the school record."
The Crimson Bear girls qualified four swimmers, the maximum possible, in the 100 free - Potdevin is seeded eighth, while DiCostanzo is 14th, Harris is 15th and Klein is 16th. Senior Lisse Focht qualified in two events - the 200 free and 500 free - while Jones earned state bids in the 200 IM and 100 butterfly. Also earning second swims were Harris in the 200 free, DiCostanzo in the 50 free, Potdevin in the 100 back and Klein in the 200 free.
Juneau also qualified three female divers - fifth-seeded junior Marnita Coenraad, sophomore Lexy Wagoner and sophomore Tanya Trucano.
Among the other Southeast girls teams, Petersburg earned two relay swims and five individual qualifiers; Ketchikan has one relay and seven individuals qualified; and Sitka has four individuals heading to state.
"I think we're really positive," Wray said. "Our girls have a chance to set a couple of school records, and maybe a region record or two if they swim well. They haven't been that close for a couple of years."
The state meet opens with swimming preliminaries at 2 p.m. today, followed by the diving preliminaries at 5:30 p.m. today. The swimming and diving finals start at 1 p.m. on Saturday.
Charles Bingham can be reached at email@example.com.
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