Before the 2002-03 swim season began at Hood River Valley, you would have been hard pressed to name 10 members of the Eagles swim team.
Besides the four senior boys team leaders — Erik Hidle, Cody MacMillan, Sean Jennings and Daniel Chance — a junior state qualifier (Henry Burton), three returning girls team members, and a strong crop of sophomores, most of the faces on this year’s team were new.
Some, like sophomore Jeremy Fogle, were new to the program. Others, like freshman Ariel MacMillan, were new to the high school. Even their coach, Jane Nichols, was a new fish, not having coached at the high-school level since the 1980s.
What’s more, the Eagles were competing in a new conference, the Intermountain, and had just two home meets — one in which they were the visitor (the Jan. 25 The Dalles Invitational).
After most of the girls team graduated and state champion Caitlyn Shortt transferred to Reynolds, the ladies were essentially starting from scratch. Likewise, the boys team would be challenged to match last year’s success without four-year letterman Oliver Burton.
But everyone on the team continued to push themselves, and when all the season times were added up, each swimmer had made a significant improvement — which is the ultimate goal.
“Everyone improved on their times from last year — some, dramatically,” said Nichols, who took over for former head coach Kass Bergstrom in the fall.
“I am thrilled to have worked with the students of Hood River Valley, and I plan to continue getting the local kids excited about swimming,” she said.
Nichols was very enthusiastic about the effort her swimmers put forth in 2002-03, and believes that the program is progressing nicely toward the future.
“Learning the mental aspect of swimming is the hardest thing,” she said. “Once the kids decide that they really want to commit themselves, they realize that the rewards are there.”
Sophomores such as Adam Brown, Louis DeSitter, Chris Jennings, Jess Jennings, David Voigt and Fogle figure to make the boys team competitive over the next two seasons, while a strong freshman class and 100-fly specialist, sophomore Kelsey Hale, will provide the foundation for the girls team the next two years.
The lone graduating senior for the girls team is team captain Joyce Yang, who was one of the team’s most vocal cheerleaders this season. She was a mainstay on the “A” relay the past two seasons as a freestyler, and will leave the team in the hands of Hale, MacMillan and junior Elsie Denton.
The boys will graduate five team members, including three of the four parts of the state-qualifying 200 medley relay team: Hidle, Cody MacMillan and Sean Jennings. Joining them at graduation will be Chance and Chris Fenwick.
“This was a good way for the seniors to end,” said Hidle, who won the 100 free district title and helped the relay team place 15th at state. “It’s nice to end this part of our lives with something we can be proud of.”
The Eagle boys made a valiant run at the IMC district title, but fell just short to Bend and had to settle for second place. But, while they would have liked to win the IMC in their inaugural year, the seniors were pleased with their final season.
“We were right in there,” Hidle said. “We were competitive with all the teams in our league, and even beat Summit, who went on to win the state title.
“Swimming is like a bank: What you put into it, you get out,” he said.
Next year’s team will have to cash in without Hidle and the other four seniors. But with young speedsters like Burton, Brown, Fogle, DeSitter and the brothers Jennings, the Eagles appear to be right on track.
Meanwhile, Spencer Johnisee, Tyler White, Tanner Hall and Voigt will each add depth to the roster.
“They’re not done,” Hidle said. “They have some good things still to come. There is lots of young talent on the roster, and I think they are all committed.”
The Eagle girls, which placed sixth out of seven teams at district, will be surrounded by familiar faces in 2004, as nearly every member plans to return.
Freshmen Nicole Shames, Kendra Mohar and Ariel MacMillan will be joined by sophomores Danielle Mellow, Elizabeth Cobarrubias and Hale to make up the core for the next two seasons.
At this time, Denton will be the lone senior swimmer on a rising Eagle girls team that plans to put in the work during the offseason.
“Sometimes, you need to light that fire for the kids to reach the next level,” said Nichols. “My experience this year has shown me that I may need to start a little sooner next year.
“If I can get them excited and show them that everyone is on their side, supporting them, next year will be a lot of fun,” she said.