Changes are ahead for the Hood River Valley High School swim team. But no one is afraid.
Everyone, including second-year head coach Jane Nichols, is excited about the upcoming season. And despite the graduations of a number of top performers, the Eagles appear to be paddling along rather nicely.
“It’s weird to think that I am already one of the guys that the younger swimmers look up to,” said junor Adam Brown, who was voted team captain last week.
“It seems like only yesterday that I was in awe, watching Oliver Burton, Erik Hidle and Cody MacMillan win every race. But this year is different, and we’re all looking forward to it.”
Joining Brown as the new team leaders for the boys team are juniors Louis DeSitter and Jeremy Fogle, as well as senior Henry Burton — a two-time state qualifier who is shooting for a top eight state finish this year.
Senior newcomers David Chance and Chris Perry will also be asked to shoulder some of the leadership responsibilities for the 12-man team. Sophomore returnees Tyler White and Tanner Hall may also have incresased roles along with juniors Spencer Johnisee and David Voigt.
“We may not be as strong individually as we were last year,” Nichols said, “but I think we’re a very strong team overall. Having kids like David, Chris and Zed (Debbaut) walk on was a huge boost for the team, and all three should help us in many ways.”
Meanwhile, on the girls team, the varsity core hasn’t been disrupted from last year, giving Nichols plenty to look forward to.
“They were such a young team last year, and I think that experience will help the girls this year,” she said. “Our numbers are also way up, which makes it easier to fill events at every meet.”
Two-year varsity veteran Elsie Denton is the lone senior on the team, but a handful of other swimmers — including Kelsey Hale, Ariel MacMillan and Nicole Shames — also carry with them some big meet experience.
Kendra Mohar, Elizabeth Cobarrubius and Danielle Mellow are the other returning members of last year’s team, while a core of nine freshmen will try to build experience early on.
“The best thing about this year is that we’ve grown,” said Hale, a junior butterfly specialist. “There are a lot of new faces, which is a good sign for the future.”
At least one of the team’s newcomers will be asked to fill varsity events (Fatima Valle). But Nichols wants to focus on getting the younger swimmers ready for next year and beyond.
“It’s going to take me a few meets to see where we are at,” she said. “We started out this year with a little harder practices, so I’m hoping that will pay off as the season progresses. Conditioning is always a factor, and I would like us to start peaking when district rolls around.”
Nichols said most of the varsity events would be filled by her returning swimmers, but there will also be a chance for the freshman group to prove itself.
Nickayla Benway, Margaret Phelan, Daniela Huizar, Rose Saunders, Sara DeSitter, Allysa Johnisee, Amanda Butler, Sarah Lee and Valle will all be looking to impress coach Nichols.
But, more importantly, they will be looking to gain valuable meet experience so that they can guide the team when they reach their junior and senior years.
“Watch out for these young swimmers,” Nichols said. “They are really working hard and showing that they want to compete. And a lot of them are starting to try new strokes, which will only help them in the long run.”
So with so many new faces, what can a team like HRV expect to do at the district meet?
“Now that all of last year’s leaders are gone, we are really going to have to compete hard every meet,” Brown said. “We can’t count on those guys earning us a bunch of points anymore, and that’s going to be an adjustment for us.”
Brown, who served as an alternate on last year’s state-qualifying medley relay team, said he hopes to reach state in the 100 freestyle this year. And even if he has to wait one more year, he plans to be a factor at the district meet.
“A realistic goal for me would be top three at district,” he said. “I really surprised myself last year by dropping 5 seconds. A lot of the credit goes to Jane for pushing me. But now it’s up to me to improve again this year.”
Also hoping to use the 2003-04 season as a springboard is Burton, who placed 10th in the 100 fly at the 2003 state meet. He said his goal is to reach the “big finals” (top eight) in 2004, and to help him get there, he has put in a ton of extra time with the Hillsboro Swim Club.
“Henry is so focused, and with one more year of maturity, I think he can go as far as he wants to,” Nichols said.
Individual state hopefuls for the girls team are Hale (100 fly) and MacMillan (200 IM, 100 breast), while the “A” relay team of Shames, Denton, Hale and MacMillan also hopes to make a splash at the district meet.
“Our relay team is all the same, so that should help a lot,” Hale said. “But I really want to go to state this year in the fly, so that’s what I’m going to shoot for.”
Hale already improved on her 2003 district time at Tuesday’s first meet against Reynolds. Other girls posting big improvements over last year were Denton (500 free), Valle (200 IM, 100 back), and Mohar (200 free).
Boys team improvements were turned in by Fogle (50 free, 100 free), Hall (50 free), Johnisee (100 breast), White (50 free), Burton (100 free) and Voigt (100 free).