ANCHORAGE - The Juneau-Douglas High School boys swimming and diving team did what it could, but the Crimson Bears fell short in their bid to repeat as state champions.
Caught in a rebuilding year, the Crimson Bears still nearly matched the point total of last year's co-state champion team. But the Lathrop Malemutes were just too strong, scoring 116 points to win the meet held Friday and Saturday at Bartlett High School. The Service Cougars scored 97 points for second place.
The Juneau boys scored 72 points - just five less than its total last year - as the Crimson Bears finished in third place. The Sitka Wolves, who had Southeast's only event winner in 100-yard breaststroke champion Matt Way, took fourth place with 46 points, followed by the Ketchikan Kings in fifth place with 41 points. The Craig Panthers sent two boys swimmers to the state meet - the first boys state qualifiers in school history - but didn't score any team points.
Even though the Crimson Bears didn't repeat, or even win any events, the Juneau swimmers felt pretty good about their performances.
Juneau took second place in three events - the 200 medley relay to open the meet, junior Tyler Hennon in the 500 freestyle in the middle of the meet and the 400 free relay team to end it. The seniors felt they ended on a strong note, while the underclassmen thought they had laid a solid base for next season.
"That was nice, a perfect ending," Hennon said of the 400 free relay, where Juneau battled winner Service and third-place Lathrop stroke for stroke even though the Crimson Bears were one of the lower-seeded teams. "We all gave it 100 percent, and the rest of the meet was good, too."
In two individual events, Juneau came within a fraction of a second of winning state titles. Hennon, who was the top swimmer in the 500 free after Friday's preliminaries, lost to Jimmy Rutter of Valdez by 0.53 seconds. Senior Olin Robus, who won his preliminary heat in the 100 breaststroke on Friday, took third place 0.15 seconds behind Way and 0.03 seconds behind runner-up Chris Humphrey of Lathrop.
"Those (the 500 free and 200 free) were both the best swims of my life," said Hennon, one of several Juneau boys swimmers to shave his head for the meet.
"I felt great," said Robus, who posted a personal record (PR) in the 100 breast and was another bald Bear. "I know I put my best into it. I was told by a senior last year to leave everything in the pool. I left it all. Now that I'm done, that's the hardest part."
The Crimson Bears were the top seed in the 200 medley relay to open the meet. But Lathrop switched its lineup to load its relay squad, and the Malemutes went on to beat Juneau by 4 1/2 seconds with a time of 1 minute, 37.98 seconds.
Juneau's quartet of Hennon, Robus, freshman Kyle O'Brien and junior Q Smyth held off Soldotna and Ketchikan for second place, posting a season-best time of 1:42.31 in the process. Service, which had been seeded second behind Juneau, got off to a slow start and wound up in eighth place (last).
"We've been really working on our exchanges all year, and we had great exchanges," Robus said. "We can't worry about the other guys. We had a season best and we were only a second off what we won with last year. We can't complain about second place."
"They (the Malemutes) had four seniors racing against us," Smyth said.
In the 500 free, Hennon fell slightly behind Rutter early in the race, but caught up and took a slight lead with three lengths to go and another lead with about a length left. But Rutter, who held the state's top time most of the year, ended up edging out Hennon, posting a winning time of 4:55.66 to Hennon's 4:56.19. O'Brien took fourth place in 5:00.71.
"I'm pretty tired," said Hennon, who set PRs in both the preliminaries and finals. "We were neck-and-neck for so long. I'm excited; I'm ecstatic. I dropped five seconds in the last year."
"I had a PR by six seconds," O'Brien said of his finals time, which was 12 seconds faster than his Region V meet time and 6 seconds faster than his preliminary time on Friday. "I'm really happy."
In the 400 free relay, the Juneau quartet of Smyth, senior Kirk Fishel, O'Brien and Hennon led early in the race and posted a time of 3:19.75 to finish behind Service's time of 3:16.70. Lathrop, which also led early in the race, took third place in 3:20.36. The Juneau 200 free relay team of Smyth, Fishel, junior Abe Levy and Robus took sixth place with a time of 1:33.08.
In other finals involving Juneau swimmers, Hennon finished fifth and O'Brien was seventh in the 200 free; Robus finished fifth in the 200 IM; Smyth finished fifth in the 100 free; and Fishel took eighth place in the 100 backstroke. Senior Patrick Hoke took fifth place in the diving event, while senior Nathan Schroeder was eighth.
"I wasn't overly pleased with myself, but overall Juneau did pretty good," said Hoke, who was in his first year diving with the Crimson Bears. "My goal was to make the finals, and I really enjoyed being on the team."
"I was really surprised to make the finals," Schroeder added. "I wish I'd joined the team earlier. I wish I could have been on it all four years. I only got a year-and-a-half in because of injuries (last year)."
The only Southeast champion was Sitka's Way, a junior, in the 100 breast. Way, Robus and Humphrey swam side-by-side-by-side the entire race, with Way, the one in the middle, holding on for the win. Way had the state's top time most of the season, but it wasn't until late in the year he thought he might have a chance at a state title. With the victory, Way became Sitka's first state champion since 2001 when Ricky Jarvil won the 100 free.
"I knew I was ahead by a little bit, and in my goggles I saw his (Humphrey's) shadow," Way said.
When asked about his state chances, Way replied, "Not at the beginning of the season. I had the top time in the first week, but I thought it wouldn't last. It wasn't until Petersburg (the Petersburg Invitational, midway through the season) I thought I might do it. Then I started to worry a lot about that guy up there (Humphrey). It was Olin and me most of the year. In regions it was me and Olin, and everybody else was back a bit."
Sitka also picked up a third-place finish from Carrington Gorman and a fourth-place finish from Way in the 100 free, while Gorman was third in the 50 free and Mica Trani was seventh in the 100 breast. The Wolves finished fourth in the 200 free relay and fifth in the 200 medley relay.
Ketchikan senior Ben Voetberg was the top seed in both the 100 free and 100 back after Friday's preliminaries, but he wound up second in both races. Voetberg had four of the state's top times most of the season, but he seemed more relieved his high school career was over than he was disappointed in not winning.
"High school is done," Voetberg yelled as he climbed out of the pool following his loss to Lathrop's Travis Williams in the 100 back (he lost to Service's Steve Burnham in the 100 free). "We're done, it's awesome. I didn't get the times I wanted. I lost, but I lost to my best friends and it was great seeing them get the times. State's been a hard time for me (before this year his best finish was fourth). It was fun. It was great."
The Kings finished fourth in the 200 medley relay, third in the 200 free relay and seventh in the 400 free relay. The only other Ketchikan swimmer to make the finals was senior Ben Rosenfeld, who was eighth in the 100 butterfly.
Charles Bingham can be reached at email@example.com.