Philomath High’s 21-student swim team roster provides coach Daniel Mikula with an interesting balance in his first year leading the Warriors. A fair number of swimmers return from the 2019-20 season but a good number of first-time competitors are also part of the program.
“We’ve got these kids that have some experience and great leadership qualities and they’re going to take the younger kids and those just starting out under their wing, which excites me a lot,” Mikula said. “We have a lot of kids that are wanting to try it out and when they come out and see what swimming and this team is all about, they’re digging in and sticking it out.”
In other sports pretty much across the board, participation levels have declined with COVID-19 impacting lives in so many different ways. But in swimming, Mikula hasn’t seen much of a dip.
“I don’t think that we’re really that far down,” he said. “I think in swimming, when we did the initial kickoff in November, I think we had 23 kids. It was funny … on that first day of practice, we had 13 in the morning and by practice time, it was up by 23, which is a great sign.”
As of last week, the program lost a couple of swimmers from the original 23.
“We lost a couple to different sports and I think it’s tough being in a season at the end of the year,” Mikula said, “and we’re rolling into a season that’s going to extend beyond school.”
Students will have wrapped up classes by the time the district tournament arrives on the schedule.
As far as the top experienced swimmers, the boys bring back senior Eli McLennan, senior Caleb Matthews and sophomore Carrson Hirte. Those three all competed in last spring’s state meet — an event that had concluded by the time pandemic restrictions set in.
McLennan finished ninth in the 100-yard backstroke in 1:02.13. Hirte and Matthews swam legs on the 200-yard medley relay that finished 11th in 1:53.59.
McLennan and Caleb Matthews were chosen as team captains for this year’s squad.
Sophomore Micah Matthews and junior Braedon Littrell were among the relay alternates that went to Beaverton to soak up the state atmosphere and are back on the roster this season.
Last year at districts, McLennan’s individual events in addition to the backstroke included the 200 individual medley. Caleb Matthews did the 100 breaststroke and 100 freestyle. Hirte had some promising moments during his freshman season as a sprinter. Micah Matthews swam the 200 IM and 100 breaststroke and Littrell was in the 100 backstroke.
Sophomore Kellen Houchin is another swimmer on the rise for the boys. He did the 100 freestyle and 100 breaststroke at districts last season.
“Kellen Houchin showing some really good stuff,” Mikula said. “We have some newer swimmers who are developing and working really hard and showing some great development. In the short season that we have, I’m excited to see where we can get.”
For the girls, senior Melia Morton and senior Audrey Davis bring back state meet experience to the squad. Morton just missed advancing to the state finals in the 100-yard breaststroke but had a personal-best time of 1:13.72. Davis participated at state as part of the 400-yard freestyle relay that included three seniors now graduated. Davis had a personal-best split of 1:02 on the relay.
Junior Ophelia Katsikis, junior Kaeleigh Houchin and sophomore Grace Bennett all got a taste of what it’s like at state as relay alternates.
Davis is looking like she will do a lot of distance work in the pool again with the 500 freestyle among her events. Mikula said she will also probably do some individual medley work. Morton will be looking to move up in her top event, the breaststroke. She also competed in the 200 IM last season and placed fourth at districts.
Davis and Morton will serve as team captains this season.
At last year’s district meet, Katsikis competed in the 100 freestyle and 100 backstroke, Houchin in the 200 freestyle and 100 breaststroke, and Bennett in the 200 freestyle and 100 butterfly. Other returnees and the events they swam at districts include senior Lily Schell (50 freestyle, 100 breaststroke), sophomore Emma Holden (200 freestyle, 500 freestyle), sophomore Katherine Holden (50 freestyle, 100 butterfly) and sophomore Allison Neelands (50 freestyle, butterfly).
The team has been preparing for the season with split practices, a necessity because of the number of athletes. Mikula kept the inexperienced swimmers together in one of the sessions and those with more experience in the other.
“The reason I split it that way is I can do a little bit more foundational work with the first group,” Mikula said, “and with the other more experienced swimmers, we don’t need to do as much of that. We can work on conditioning and speed.”
Mikula’s coaching assistant is Stephen Miguelez, who teaches science classes at Linus Pauling Middle School in Corvallis and has experience as a swim coach.
The season opens Tuesday afternoon with a home dual against Stayton — one of three appearances for the Warriors at Clemens Community Pool. The others will be May 25 against Salem Academy and June 1 versus Junction City.
All of the other regular-season meets will each involve three schools and be held virtually. In those meets, each team will swim in its home pool and results will be combined to determine winners and scoring.
The district meet will run June 18-19 at Sweet Home. There are plans to organize a 4A state meet.
“We don’t know if or what state’s going to look like, there are still discussions on how that’s going to be handled,” Mikula said.
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