Athletes dive into new season of high school swimming

The competitive high school swimming season has only just begun and already the athletes are being challenged.

Coach Jamie Roberts so far has four returning swimmers and two new swimmers, but she's wasting no time in making practice tougher and getting her team in winning form.

"They're already doing harder practices than where we would start," she said. "(It's) more like interval work where you're pushing yourself against the clock to do repeated distances of swimming. We might do 10 50-meters and they get a minute to do each 50."

Roberts said she wouldn't start the swimmers off so hard if they hadn't swum before, but all but one of her athletes are experienced in the sport. Returning this year are senior Nikolai Bardin-Siekawitch, juniors Alisha Armstrong and Jack Roberts and sophomore Max Lloyd. New to the team are senior Carter Hammer and junior Nate Rooney.

Many of the athletes came into the team by means of the swim club for younger kids, which Roberts also coaches. When she has inexperienced swimmers on the team, she takes a slower approach, building team unity first, then focusing on building skill and muscle.

"I don't really start with something that's going to make them rethink their decisions," Roberts said. "As of right now, I don't have any kids who haven't swum before. I'm able to pick up the pace a little bit faster."

Last year's team had three swimmers advance to state. Bardin-Siekawitch and Jack and Renée Roberts all went on to compete at that level. The coach said she is expecting the same if not better from her returning athletes.

"Jack went to state last year, so I would expect him to be a state qualifier," she said. "He's a flyer, breast-stroker, freestyler, and the 100-freestyle is his strongest event, but I think we're going to change it up this year and look at having him do the individual medley because he's pretty strong in all the strokes."

She said Jack also had a bit of a growth spurt over the summer which has made him a different swimmer than before. Roberts is also looking at Bardin-Siekawitch to do well, based on his past performance.

The students aren't the only ones facing a challenge this year, as Roberts is tasked with finding more athletes to fill out the roster.

"I was told (last Wednesday) that I need six swimmers or the school will not pay me to coach and they won't pay for our travel," she said. "They will book our travel, but we will have to pay for it out of pocket, which is a bummer."

Rooney joined the team as of last Thursday, bringing the roster up to the needed six.

Roberts said the program may have to expect smaller groups in the coming years. "Our junior class this year is eight. Our class sizes have decreased."

While many sports are broken into divisions at the state level, swimming is one of nine activities that don't rely on student population to fall into a division. For example, for volleyball teams to qualify for 2A classification with the Alaska Schools Activities Association, there must be 61 to 150 students enrolled, which is where Wrangell High School falls. To be a 3A team, they would need 151 to 500 students. And 4A requires a student body of 501 or more.

One reason it's been a challenge to find swimmers, Roberts said, is that three sports are vying for competitors at the beginning of the year: Swimming, cross country and volleyball.

"The school doesn't really start publicizing this stuff on their Facebook page or in their newsletter until school starts," she said. "By that time, we're late in the game."

Roberts will be getting the word out through the parks and recreation department and through posters. One benefit that students might not know about is that by participating in a school sport, they fulfill their physical education requirement, earning a credit for it. "That's been a draw in the past."

She's hoping that the health benefit of swimming will also be a draw, as it's low-impact, stress-relieving and helps with breath control.

Thanks to a grant received by the Wrangell Cooperative Association for health-related programs, the swim team received $1,500 which was used to replace some of their older equipment, Roberts said.

High school students interested in joining the swim team can go to practice from 4 to 5:15 p.m., Monday through Friday or call Roberts at 907-470-4844.


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