Young swimmers aiming for district title

Scott Swanson

Of The New Era

Sweet Home swimming coach Doug Peargin knows he has a little bit of a rebuilding job before him this year, but he’s looking forward to it.

With 11 seniors out of 29 swimmers graduating last year, the Huskies will be a little less experienced this season as they head into Peargin’s 32nd year as head coach.

“We’re down in numbers of people that have a lot of background in swimming, but we have a lot of new people who have come out,” Peargin said of his team, which numbered 21 on the girls side and 17 on the boys as of Thanksgiving weekend.

Last year’s team boys and girls won the district then finished third at state in the boys and girls freestyle relays as the girls placed seventh as a team and the boys placed 12th.

“What I told those kids last year, the girls and the boys, is that no matter who they meet this year, everybody’s going to take a shot at them because they’re district champs,” Peargin said. “Everybody wants to see what they’ve got compared to what we’ve got.”

He said this season the Huskies are first and foremost looking to place in the top three at the district level.

“Our goal this year as girls and boys teams is to take a trophy at the district meet,” he said.

It’s not as though the cupboard is completely bare for the Huskies.

Dani Birky and Ashley Flanigan have graduated, but back this year for the girls are four swimmers who medaled at state, seniors Nichole Martin and Jessica Trautwein, and juniors Justine Calhoon and Sarah Rosa. Martin, Trautwein and Rosa were three-quarters of the state 400 freestyle team that took third.

The Huskies also have an experienced transfer, senior Alyshia Benzo from Lebanon, whom Peargin expects to “carry some of the load.”

“We’ll try to build pretty much around them, then fill in the gaps that we have,” he said, noting that the team’s depth this year may be helpful for Sweet Home.

Also back are senior Staci Grove and junior Jessica Mengore, both of whom placed at districts. Peargin said he sees promise from sophomores Laura Gourley, a newcomer to the team, and Faith Helfrich.

“Laura Gourley shows some ability and Faith Helfrich has come 10 miles from last year,” he said.

Other girls on the team are seniors Shaley Coker, Krystal Grimes and Jill Wilson, juniors Alice Davis, Tee Whaley, Tashina Davis and Jenessa VanEpps, sophomores Katie Kinney, Norajean Lemar, Tiffany Traeger and Louise Wilcox, and freshman Bryana Bittner.

On the boys side, with Larry Coulter and Anthony Ertsgaard graduated, senior Cole Stumbaugh and junior Brinden Sanders will be expected to lead the team.

“Both of them were state placers last year and we’re looking for good things from them,” Peargin said.

The boys also have veterans returning in senior Peter VanDerlip and junior Jonathan Lemar and Peargin said he is looking for “big things” from junior Shawn Adams and sophomore David Worthen.

The coach also sees potential in some newcomers, freshmen Jayce Calhoon, Keiran Schaefer and Michael Simmons, all of whom have years of age-group swimming behind them.

“I think they’ll really help us out this year,” said Peargin, who is assisted by Bruce West and Tia Sitton.

The district will have 12 teams this year with the addition of Central, but otherwise, Peargin said, he sees little change.

He said he expects Philomath, Cascade and Junction City to be tough on the girls side, along with the Huskies.

On the boys side, “Junction City and us will be competitive at the district level – going for the hardware,” he predicted.

The Huskies will open their season at 4 p.m. Friday with the nonscoring five-team Sweet Home Relays at home.