Going from the largest to one of the smallest lineups in recent years, the Hood River Valley High School swim team is gearing up for what is expected to be a tough season. The Eagles, guided by third-year coach Keith Ebbert, graduated more than a dozen seniors last season and have few new athletes to help fill the void. With just 11 girls and 10 boys, a repeat of last year’s breakthrough season that brought Columbia River Conference boys and girls team titles and sent more than a dozen to state, appears unlikely.
“It’s going to be a very different season,” Ebbert said. “The sheer fact that our numbers are down so low is going to make things very difficult. Districts last year was a chance to claim titles; this year it’s going to be a chance to see how competitive we can be against the other, larger teams.”
On a positive note, last year’s lineup included a strong group of younger swimmers, most of whom are back this year. Among those, Ebbert says sophomores Dhani Freeland and David Walker, junior Kylie Webb and senior Danielle Miller will be swimmers to watch. Last season Freeland, Webb and Miller were part of the district champion girls 200-meter medley relay team (along with Rebekah Galvez) that went on to finish fourth at the state championships. Individually, Freeland returns as the defending 100 meter and 200 meter freestyle district champion, Webb as the defending 200 IM and 100 breaststroke district champion and Miller as the 100 backstroke district champion and Walker the boys 100 backstroke district champion.
“They’ll definitely be working toward strong performances at districts,” Ebbert said, “Losing 16 seniors was a big hit to the team, though. Each swimmer can only do so many events, so if your numbers are down, you usually don’t do very well as a team.”
Ebbert says it’s hard to know why he didn’t see an influx of new swimmers like last season. One reason, he acknowledged, is simply the variety of sports kids have to choose from in the area; a sentiment many local coaches have echoed.
“There are so many options for kids to choose from, and athletically they’re talented enough to be able to come and go in a variety of sports,” he said. “That’s the wonderful thing about living around here. But as a coach, it’s also a huge challenge. Kids can be really good at a lot of things, but if they want to be really great at something, they have to dedicate themselves to it.”
The Eagles were meant to start their competitive season with an away meet last week at Pendleton but it was canceled due to weather. Instead they’ll host their icebreaker Thursday, 4 p.m. at the Hood River Aquatic Center in a three-way dual with Reynolds and Molalla.