Kellen Houchin
Philomath junior Kellen Houchin swims to a district title Saturday in the 100-yard breaststroke. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

PHS swim squads both finish 3rd at district meet in Albany

ALBANY — Philomath High School junior Kellen Houchin figured he’d have a shot at first place in the 100-yard breaststroke coming into the 4A/3A/2A/1A Special District 3 Championships Friday and Saturday at Albany Community Pool.

“I was seeded third but I noticed the two guys ahead of me were only a fraction of a second faster than me so I kind of buckled down and was like, ‘hey, I’m close, maybe I should try it,’” Houchin said. “I wasn’t expecting to get first but I’m really glad that I did.”


Houchin indeed touched the wall first during Saturday’s finals in the event with a time of 1:09.69 — more than 2 seconds faster than the runner-up and more than 4 seconds faster than his seed time coming in.

“My coaches were telling me to go fast in the walls and focus on your turns and quick pull-outs,” he said. “On my pull-outs before this, I focused on gliding more but this time, I definitely focused on getting up on the water and using my stroke faster.”

Kellen Houchin, right, shakes hands with a fellow swimmer after winning the 100-yard breaststroke. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

With the victory, Houchin earned an automatic berth in this coming weekend’s 4A/3A/2A/1A Championships on Saturday at the Tualatin Hills Aquatic Center in Beaverton. The one-day meet will go straight to timed finals with a start time of 4:45 p.m.

Joining Houchin at state will be junior Carrson Hirte, who qualified in both the 50- and 100-yard freestyle. The 200-yard medley relay also made it in with its performance at districts with Hirte, junior Micah Matthews, Houchin and senior Braedon Littrell.

Winners in the four districts earn automatic berths in the state meet with the other eight slots filled out based on times.

“It’s awesome to see them both become believers in their abilities,” Mikula said about Houchin and Hirte. “They’ve always been pretty fast but I think they kind of never really saw themselves as being fast in that fast heat. To see them have the confidence this weekend and really throughout the course of the year, I think they built upon that and it’s just really awesome to see them feeling good about getting in there and racing.”

Houchin said he thought the meet went pretty well for him with that first in the breaststroke and fourth in the butterfly.

“I’d like to shave a few more seconds off my breaststroke,” Houchin said about a goal for state. “And if I go in my fly, which is debatable, I’d also like to shave a few seconds off that one and really focus on my forms. During this districts, my arms kind of lacked and I had to compensate so I’d really prefer both of them to work for me.”

As it turned out, Houchin didn’t make it in the fly. He’s seeded seventh in the breaststroke and could be in contention for a top-five finish if he can bring down his PR by a few seconds more.

PHS junior Carrson Hirte qualified for state in both the 50- and 100-yard freestyle. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Hirte, meanwhile, had to settle for third in the 50 free and second in the 100 free. In the shorter race, he came in with a personal-best time of 24.23 seconds with the winner touching in 23.94. He’s seeded 11th for the state meet.

Hirte had the fastest 100 time during Friday’s prelims but Marist Catholic’s Trent McQuaid kicked it in high gear for the finals for a time of 51.99. Hirte had PRs both days and touched in 53.26 on Saturday. Hirte is seeded sixth for state right behind McQuaid. The top four times are all below 50 seconds.

Hirte said he believes the team as a whole had a good meet.

“The guys were super close to winning it by the end, so we did really good on that,” Hirte said. “Daniel was able to plan everything out well for us and get us all in the right events.”

That includes Hirte, who did have other options for events to enter.

“Backstroke was considered as well as the 200 free but I was pretty far off in those times,” Hirte said. “But in the end, it’s better that I didn’t get put in backstroke because everyone was swimming like 5 seconds faster than me by the end and so I definitely wouldn’t have gotten very high in that.”

In the 200 medley relay, Hirte started off with the backstroke, Matthews followed with the breaststroke, Houchin swam the butterfly and Littrell finished with freestyle. They combined for a time of 1:56.37 for second behind Marist.

The foursome is seeded seventh for state. Sophomores Henry Katsikas and Marshall Morrison are listed as event alternates.

Philomath placed a strong third in the team standings with 162 points behind Marist Catholic’s 283 and Sweet Home’s 163.

PHS freshman Kyah Weeber placed sixth in the 200-yard individual medley. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

The girls didn’t qualify any swimmers for the stat meet this year but still had plenty of high moments. The top individual placers were junior Allison Neelands with sixth in the 200 freestyle (2:25.01), freshman Kyah Weeber in the 200 IM (2:44.70) and junior Katherine Holden in the 100 butterfly (1:33.75).

“I didn’t go as fast as I did at the prelims yesterday but I’m still pretty proud of my time for the most part,” Neelands said. “I broke my seed time in the 200 but I didn’t break my PR that I did yesterday.”

Neelands described how the team prepared for districts.

“We had two weeks of basically no meets … we had intense training — worked out all day and did weight room stuff; we basically worked ourselves very hard,” she said. “In the week before that, we did very easy things — only a couple of kicks and light work the entire practice; we did maybe a half an hour of practice at most.”

Philomath’s Ophelia Katsikis competes in the backstroke. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Philomath’s 200 and 400 freestyle relays had top-six finishes. The 200 foursome of senior Kaeleigh Houchin, junior Grace Bennett, junior Emma Holden and Neelands placed fifth in 2:02.12. The 400 relay of Weeber, Houchin, sophomore Madison Juhl and Emma Holden touched in 4:44.73 for sixth.

“Allison, Kyah — a lot of the girls had some great swims,” Mikula said. “Building on the season and just seeing where they’re at and chasing times, they seem to have plateaued a little bit until we were able to get a taper in.”

The girls tied Junction City for third in the team standings with 108 points behind Sweet Home’s dominating 327 and Stayton’s 199.

Overall, Mikula said it was an amazing meet.

“It was one of the first times the kids saw a two-day meet so that posed a little bit of a challenge for them to come back with the same intensity,” Mikula said. “Our Day 1 was amazing — we hit the taper and it was just a great weekend and we continued some of that momentum but we just had to kind of get the fire started again a little bit.”

Mikula said that in Day 1, the boys dropped a combined time of 1:33.19 and the girls dropped 0:59 from their personal records.

Kellen Houchin