Returning state champs, veterans and newcomers have swimmers aiming high
December 1, 2021
Following a second-place finish at last year's state swimming championships, Sweet Home's girls are back to seek what new Head Coach A. Jay Bronson believes is an attainable goal: their fourth state championship.
Sweet Home's swimming dominance on the girls side began in 2016, when the Huskies, led by Luci Davis, began a string of state trophies that included first-place finishes again in 2017 and 2019, the latter with the arrival of Chloe Tyler, Malia "Josie" Hewitt and Jamie Seward.
Those girls came to the high school from the Sweet Home Swim Club, and they are joined this year by another young club swimmer, freshman Kirsten Sautel, who adds sufficient experience and speed to make the coaches optimistic, Bronson said.
But it's not just those four; the Huskies have a loaded roster of veteran swimmers – 17 on the girls side, including seven experienced seniors, and seven on the boys at last count – who should contend for what could be a 10th-straight district title for the girls, not to mention the state championship.
Longtime Coach Doug Peargin, who is acting as an assistant this year as Bronson assumes the reins of the program, said that experience will make a difference.
"We've got people with some background, and so it'll be fun to work with those guys, even if they're new kids," he said. "It's surprising. If a kid only has even one year of age-group background, at least they have an idea of what's going on. You don't have to spend so much time teaching them the basics; you can actually work on a little bit of stroke correction and conditioning."
Bronson said the Huskies are optimistic that they can win a 10th straight girls district title.
"And then we're shooting for a state championship with the girls. Because they have the talent. They have enough depth, with enough newbies, to do well," he said.
Depth is always a big factor at the district meet and Sweet Home has it, on the girls side.
Back for the Husky girls are "heavy hitters" – as Peargin puts it – senior Chloe Tyler, who won individual state titles in the 200 Freestyle and the 100 Backstroke at last spring's championships. Also back is senior Malia "Josie" Hewitt, who was the 100 Breaststroke state champion.
"Chloe and Josie are gonna be huge," Bronson said. "They can take home some individual titles and really help us on some relays. Jamie has been on multiple relays as well."
As a team, the girls finished 45 points behind Newport at state last spring, in a meet scored differently than normal state meets.
Also back for the girls are all the members of two state-championship relays, the 200 Medley Relay team of Hewitt, Tyler, Isabel Sayer and Meagan Baham, also seniors, and the 200 Freestyle Relay team of senior Jamie Seward, Sayer, Baham and Hewitt.
"Kirsten is going to be a great help, having an impact on some of those relays," Bronson said. "And then we have a bunch of returners that are multi-sport athletes for the high school, who are awesome to have. It's always good to have those dual sports. They definitely help us."
Sautel is not the only newcomer who brings experience to the program: senior Jenna Wolthuis brings club experience to her first season of high school swimming, as do freshmen Peyton Markell and Payton Brookfield.
Rounding out the girls team, as of this week, are senior Autumn Ice, juniors Taryn Abbott and Nora Pettner, sophomore Rylee Markell, and freshmen Tierney Clarno, Emerson Martineau, Timber Nobles and Shayla Welch. Both Markell and Abbott also went to state last season, as alternates.
"Once they get there and get a taste of it, they get hungry," Peargin said.
"We've got 17 girls," he said. "I think that will help us tremendously. I think, if we work hard, we will be a little stronger on both the girls and the boys side."
On the boys side, the Huskies welcome back two of the four members of last year's sixth-place state 400 Freestyle Relay team, seniors Micah Wright and Bill Hawken, following the departures of Chase Lopez and Hunter Calderwood to graduation.
Also back are senior Jacob Kennedy and sophomore Ben Tolman, both of whom were big contributors for the boys last year.
They are joined by freshmen Ronald "RJ" Abbott Jr. and Boden Sayer.
"RJ Abbott, he's a club swimmer," Bronson said. "He will have an immediate impact."
He said he's hopeful to see at least one Husky qualify for state.
Also joining the team is sophomore Blake Arthur, who's home-schooled and who brings some age-group experience to the team.
"They're new," Bronson said of the boys' newcomers. "But with a small team, it gives us more time to focus on each one and hopefully sneak in a state qualifier in a relay or two.
Peargin said he expects the Husky boys to finish in the top half of the 11 schools in the 4A/3A/2A/1A Special District 3.
"You've gotta have six kids with age-group background to win a title in our district," he said. "I think we'll be in the upper half of the boys in the district, because we have the power but we just don't have the bottom end."
Peargin said he expects competition within the district from Marist, Salem Academy and Blanchet Catholic, both of which are private schools able to recruit talent. Beyond the district, he sees competition from Marshfield, Newport, La Grande and Portland-area private schools Catlin Gable and Valley Catholic.
Sweet Home will compete Dec. 18 at Lebanon in a meet that will include La Grande and St. Mary's, both perennial top-10 teams at the 4A/3A/2A/1A level, and will travel to Newport on Jan. 8 for a meet that will include 5A power Crescent Valley. The Huskies will also see every other team in the district during the regular season, he said.
"We're looking forward to it. I think it'll be fun," Peargin said. "They're excited now and they're working hard. We've got a good schedule.
"I think we'll be tougher, the girls and the boys. We just lack numbers with the guys."