Junior Carrson Hirte has added the backstroke to his lineup of events. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Just two small dual meets into the season, Philomath High School’s swimmers have been putting in the work to improve times — some experimenting with other events. To break it down further, each athlete regardless of skill level has certain elements of their performances that need improvement.

Take junior Carrson Hirte and senior Kaeleigh Houchin. Both said they’re focused right now on breathing.


“I want to work on my underwaters for backstroke because right now, they’re kind of nonexistent,” Hirte said following Friday afternoon’s home dual against Junction City. “I can’t hold my breath underwater upside down for that long just because I can’t get water in my nose really. But as soon as I get that, I should be able to go a bit faster.”

Houchin, who is a co-captain of the girls’ squad with Ophelia Katsikis, has her own battles with breathing to work through.

“I get out of breath super quickly and I do this thing where I’m not very good at holding my breath,” she said. “So I’ll definitely be working on that constantly. Anytime I’m in the water, I’m like, OK, hold my breathing.”

Hirte has been one of the top prospects over the past few seasons for the program primarily in the sprints. But he’s branching out a bit with some work on the backstroke.

Sophomore Madison Juhl competes in Friday’s home dual against Junction City. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

“I’m more focused towards backstroke now because I practiced a bit offseason and I got better at that, trained more at that,” Hirte said. “I might stick with backstroke and I’m probably going to stick with 50 free but we’ll see what happens in the end.”

Against Junction City, Hirte easily won the 50-yard freestyle with a time of 24.66 seconds. He also won the 100 backstroke — which featured only four PHS swimmers — in 1:02.41.

Houchin focused on the freestyle events during the dual although she also usually swims the backstroke.

Freshman Kyah Weeber had a first-place finish in the 100-yard breaststroke with a time of 1:25.94, beating out five other swimmers. The 200 medley relay won with Katsikis, Weeber, junior Katherine Holden and junior Allison Neelands swimming a time of 2:24.63 — a victory of just .06 of a second over Junction City. The 200 freestyle relay of Neelands, junior Emma Holden, sophomore Madison Juhl and Weeber took first with a 2:07.94.

Katherine Holden won the 100 butterfly as the lone entrant with a time of 1:31.50.

For the boys, beyond the wins by Hirte in the 50 freestyle and 100 backstroke, the Warriors also had first-place finishes by junior Micah Matthews in the 200 freestyle (2:37.63), junior Kellen Houchin in the 100 butterfly (1:19.97) and sophomore Henry Kitsikis in the 100 freestyle (1:02.72). The Kitsikis win was especially thrilling with a touch of the wall giving him the victory by .22 of a second.

“We had some really good swims,” PHS coach Daniel Mikula said. “We actually had some PRs from past years, so we’re already swimming fast.”

Junior Micah Matthews competes during Friday’s home dual. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Philomath’s boys swept the relays, although the 400 freestyle was a one-team race. Philomath won the 200 medley relay (2:05.00) with Hirte, Houchin, senior Braedon Littrell and Matthews. The foursome of Houchin, Matthews, Katsikis and Hirte took first in the 200 freestyle relay (1:49.44). In that 400 freestyle relay, Katsikis, sophomore Marshall Morrison, freshman Emmitt Gaskey and Littrell covered the distance in 4:54.19.

Mikula said he’s seeing a healthy level of team chemistry.

 “You know, you get a lot of new swimmers, you graduate some and sometimes it’s hard to find the niche and really tonight, it showed that these kids have all come together and that’s going to make the world of difference as the season goes,” Mikula said.

In the team scoring, Philomath’s boys won 77-35 and the girls were winners by a margin of 76-56.

Houchin said the program has a lot of new faces and the swimmers tend to stay in their “own lane” but she also sees a positive environment developing.

“We’ve really come together this year and we all get along super well,” she said, “and we have such a great team spirit, which is super nice.”

Kyah Weeber swims during the home dual on Friday against Junction City. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

The team now turns its attention to the Riverdale Invitational on Saturday in Portland. Mikula said it will be exciting for the team to swim in a bigger meet at a venue like the Zehntbauer Swimming Pavilion at Lewis & Clark College.

“It will be a great opportunity for some more building of chemistry and then coming together as a team, having some competition that they won’t see throughout the course of the year,” Mikula said. “There will be schools there we don’t normally have on our schedule, so it’ll be nice for them to mix it up a little bit.”

Hirte is looking forward to the multi-team meet.

“Maybe I’ll get to trade a couple of more caps and add some to my collection,” Hirte said. “It’ll be fun.”

The larger meets move a little slower than a small dual, obviously, because of more athletes and more heats. But as Houchin pointed out, you can’t beat the vibe felt at a larger meet.

“There’s a lot more energy and it’s all crazy and takes a long time, so you have to be a little patient,” Houchin said. “But it’s so much fun being around those people and having all of that energy.”

A Philomath swim program tradition has revolved around sportsmanship. It was easy to see against Junction City with cheering for both teams.

“Overall, we’re all doing really good,” Hirte said. “Everybody’s spirited as normal and cheer for everyone else no matter what the team, it’s great. I love this team.”

Friday, Dec. 10, at Clemens Community Pool, Philomath High School
Philomath 77, Junction City 35
Winners & PHS Results

200 Medley Relay
1. Philomath (Hirte, Houchin, Littrell, Matthews), 2:05.00
200 Freestyle
1. Micah Matthews, Philomath, 2:37.63
50 Freestyle
1. Carrson Hirte, Philomath, 24.66
2. Braedon Littrell, Philomath, 27.81
3. Kellen Houchin, Philomath, 28.91
7. Emmitt Gaskey, Philomath, 31.50
100 Butterfly
1. Kellen Houchin, Philomath, 1:19.97
100 Freestyle
1. Henry Katsikis, Philomath, 1:02.72
6. Marshall Morrison, Philomath, 1:11.38
200 Freestyle Relay
1. Philomath (Houchin, Matthews, Katsikis, Hirte), 1:49.44
100 Backstroke
1. Carrson Hirte, Philomath, 1:02.41
2. Braedon Littrell, Philomath, 1:23.94
3. Marshall Morrison, Philomath, 1:31.78
4. Emmitt Gaskey, Philomath, 1:35.40
100 Breaststroke
1. Brian Edwards, Junction City, 1:17.28
2. Micah Matthews, Philomath, 1:19.00
3. Henry Katsikis, Philomath, 1:22.47
400 Freestyle Relay
1. Philomath (Katsikis, Morrison, Gaskey, Littrell), 4:54.19

Philomath 76, Junction City 56
Winners & PHS Results

200 Medley Relay
1. Philomath (Katsikis, Weeber, K. Holden, Neelands), 2:24.63
200 Freestyle
1. Kylie Henderson, Junction City, 2:37.47
2. Allison Neelands, Philomath, 2:45.53
3. Emma Holden, Philomath, 2:43.90
4. Kaeleigh Houchin, Philomath, 2:55.04
200 Individual Medley
Both swimmers that competed were disqualified
50 Freestyle
1. Libby Fox, Junction City, 31.54
2. Madison Juhl, Philomath, 32.12
3. Grace Bennett, Philomath, 32.65
4. Katherine Holden, Philomath, 34.47
5. Ophelia Katsikis, Philomath, 34.87
6. Abilyn Mahoney, Philomath, 36.00
7. Emery Boutilier, Philomath, 37.34
9. Natalee Barton, Philomath, 43.03
10. Shyanne Barton, Philomath, 50.91
12. Marliese Navarrete, Philomath, 1:13.25
100 Butterfly
1. Katherine Holden, Philomath, 1:31.50
100 Freestyle
1. Lily Jackson, Philomath, 1:07.93
2. Allison Neelands, Philomath, 1:09.94
4. Grace Bennett, Philomath, 1:16.19
5. Kaeleigh Houchin, Philomath, 1:19.25
8. Kateri Pindell, Philomath, 1:28.06
500 Freestyle
1. Hannah Walker, Junction City, 8:36.12
200 Freestyle Relay
1. Philomath (Neelands, E. Holden, Juhl, Weeber), 2:07.94
2. Philomath B (Mahoney, Boutilier, Bennett, Houchin), 2:19.44
100 Backstroke
1. Jordan Folsom, Junction City, 1:20.78
2. Ophelia Katsikis, Philomath, 1:25.43
4. Abilyn Mahoney, Philomath, 1:31.28
6. Madison Juhl, Philomath, 1:41.75
100 Breaststroke
1. Kyah Weeber, Philomath, 1:25.94
3. Emery Boutilier, Philomath, 1:38.88
4. Kateri Pindell, Philomath, 1:49.18
5. Natalee Barton, Philomath, 1:50.00
400 Freestyle Relay
1. Junction City (Fox, Folsom, Henderson, Jackson), 4:49.18
2. Philomath (Houchin, Juhl, Katsikis, E. Holden), 5:10.56
3. Philomath (Bennett, Pindell, Mahoney, K. Holden), 5:26.53

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Brad Fuqua has covered the Philomath area since 2014 as the editor of the now-closed Philomath Express and currently as publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He has worked as a professional journalist since 1988 at daily and weekly newspapers in Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, Arizona, Montana and Oregon.