Depth is back for girl swimmers but boys’ ranks still thin

Scott Swanson

Last year Sweet Home’s girls swimming team had what was for them a bit of a down season. Well, that was then and this is now. The Huskies look to be back with a vengeance, loaded with young talent and some veteran returnees.

The boys have lost a core of veterans to graduation, so it’s going to be a wait-and-see situation for them.

The boys qualified for one event final at state last year, the 400 Freestyle Relay, after a second-place team finish at districts.

For the first time since 2006 neither the boys or girls had an individual or relay state champion at last year’s championships. Senior Naomi Gunselman, who was defending her state championship in the 200 Individual Medley, placed fifth in that event (2:19.65), though she took third in the 100 Butterfly (1:02.38).

Gunselman, the heart of the girls team for the last four years, has moved on to college, but the cupboard is not bare.

“In the girls, we have good depth this year. Lack of depth hurt us last year,” said Coach Doug Peargin, beginning his 39th season at Sweet Home. “We’re going to be two-deep in every event, which is pretty good.”

The girls placed fifth in the district championships after they were disqualified in the preliminaries of both the 200 Medley Relay and the 200 Freestyle Relay. Sisters won the girls team title with 205 points, followed by Blanchet Catholic, Salem Academy, Stayton and the Huskies, who had 144 points.

The boys were fourth with 137 points, behind Philomath (264), Blanchet and Central.

“We had kids in the finals of every race except one last year, but we still couldn’t come out in the top three,” Peargin said. “Without depth, it’s a killer.”

The good news for the Husky girls is that they have four newcomers, freshmen who all have age-group experience which, in today’s world of high school swimming in Oregon, is a big plus. They are Kristen Adams, Jessica Coats, Lucie Davis and Elea Hewitt. Also, Sweet Home has 10 sophomores, seven of whom have competitive experience, and one junior, Sierrah Owen, who has raced before. The veteran sophomores are Natasha Benson, Esther Gunselman, Sara Helfrich, Livvie Hindmarsh, Makayla Nelson, Megan Oberg and Hannah Burge. The newcomers are Maddee Hawken, Carolann Ross and Britney Romero.

The girls team is rounded out by two seniors, both exchange students: Kira Doding of Germany and Mami Sakamoto of Japan. Doding has swum in age-group competitions in her homeland, Peargin said.

“She’s a good kid, working hard, but she hasn’t been around the kind of talent that’s in the water right now.”

That “talent” would include Nelson, who swam lifetime bests to take third in the 200 Freestyle (2:01.58) and the 500 Freestyle (5:24.36) at state – the only finalist to double in those events. She won both events at district.

Gunselman was 12th at state in the 100 Backstroke, but swam a lifetime best of 1:05.31 to get there.

Then there’s Davis, the freshman who has already – well, to put it bluntly, has already swum faster than the high school’s school record in the 500 Freestyle. Her father, Bruce Davis, was one of the best swimmers to ever compete for Sweet Home High School and both he and Lucie’s mother, Jennifer Davis, swam at Division I University of Kansas.

Right behind Davis, though are Coats and Hewitt, who also have times that, Peargin said, “are already competitive at the district and state level.”

On the boys side it will definitely be a rebuilding year. The Huskies are thin on experience, with only three returnees from last year: juniors Ryan Yon and Jaeger Howatt, and sophomore Grant Jones.

Yon is the most experienced of the group, having swum with the Sweet Home Swim Club prior to high school, but “none of them have finaled at district in an individual event,” Peargin said.

Keeping things interesting, though are two freshmen, Nathan Hager and Brandon Vasfaret, who have also swum with the club at age group events, he said.

Those five will give the Huskies some experience to work with, Peargin said.

“We’re going to be short on depth in the boys, but they’re working hard and we’ll see what the outcome is going to be. Even with the limited numbers, by the time we get to the district meet, we’re going to have kids who will surprise people.

“A lot of guys are afraid of that kind of work. It’s tough on them. If a guy’s had some type of age group background, it kind of fundamentally comes back to them fast.”

Rounding out the team are newcomers Tanner Goble, a junior; Adam Barber and Tadyn Bentley, both sophomores; and freshman Sean Wolthuis.

District-wise, Peargin said the Husky girls will get competition from Sisters and Salem Academy.

“Sisters is no slouch. They graduated one girl and she was the slowest girl off their relay.

“All three of us will be really solid unless somebody gets a lot of freshmen I don’t know about.”

Philomath and Central will be the teams to beat on the boys side, he predicts.

The Huskies open their season at Stayton on Wednesday, Dec. 4, and then will host Cascade and Blanchet on Friday, Dec. 6, at 3 p.m.