Daniel Mikula
Second-year swim coach Daniel Mikula talks to the team to begin practice on Thursday afternoon. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

The Philomath High School boys and girls swim teams will get in the pool competitively for the first time this week with two duals and an invitational. The program has 21 athletes combined on the boys and girls rosters — a number that at first glance might seem low but second-year coach Daniel Mikula said he’s discovering that the local participation rate is not bad for a smaller school.

“Talking to some of the other coaches in the district, we’re good,” Mikula said. “Stayton is our first meet and I think he said he had eight girls and two boys. Junction City is much the same. So you know, while I’d like to see numbers bigger … looking across the district and the teams that we’re swimming against, there’s some health here. For as small of a school as we are, that’s a positive.”

The girls head into the season with 14 swimmers on the roster and the boys have just seven.

“Would I like more bodies in the water? Absolutely,” Mikula added. “We had some quality swimmers that we lost to graduation but you know, (I’m) feeling comfortable.”

Top individual performers from last season’s 4A meet that graduated include Eli McLennan and Caleb Matthews for the boys and Melia Morton and Audrey Davis for the girls.

“We’ve got a couple of kids that are going to be pushing for state swims,” Mikula said about the returnees. “It’s going to be a lot of trying to find some chemistry this year and figuring out where people fit in and some new faces, some new swimmers. … (We have) hope for the future, which is great to see new kids coming out for the program.”

Mikula said the swimmers appear to be more comfortable in the environment heading into this season.

“Those that are coming back that have been on the team for a few years, having the normalcy, I think, has been a big help for them just because people can relax a little bit and not so much on edge,” Mikula said.

Senior co-captains Ophelia Katsikis and Kaeleigh Houchin are among the top returning swimmers for the girls.

Mikula said Katsikis will be “primarily backstroke, probably, but will also work out a little bit with the IM (individual medley). She’s got all the strokes — it’s just a matter of refining and working on making sure that we can maintain fitness level wise.”

Houchin’s primary event is the breaststroke but she can also contribute elsewhere and in the relays.

Junior Emma Holden is a returning state qualifier — making it to the 4A meet in the 500 freestyle — and appears to be continuing in that event. Sophomore Madison Juhl and junior Grace Bennett both return and they continue to develop strokes. Junior Allison Neelands is also back in the pool and Mikula believes she’ll be a “go to” for the short-course events.

Senior Emery Boutilier, junior Katherline Holden and junior Marliese Navarrete are other upperclassmen returning. The freshman group includes Shyanne Barton, Natalee Barton, Abilyn Mahoney, Kateri Pindell and Kyah Weeber.

“You know who has unbelievable potential is Kyah Weeber,” Mikula said. “I’m excited to work with her — already we’ve been working on some strokes and it’s going to be just her learning the program. I think within the next couple of years, I look for her to do some pretty good things.”

For the boys, junior Carrson Hirte is back in the PHS pool. Hirte focused on sprints during his freshman and sophomore seasons but he may branch out.

“We’ve talked about doing some different things and I think we’re going to mix up some of the events this year,” Mikula said. “The sprint events tend to get pretty filled up with great, high-quality swimmers — not that that’s a bad thing — but Carrson is one of those kids that can really swim any stroke. So it gives some opportunity to look at some other events that possibly (we could) throw in a hat and see how it goes.”

Junior Kellen Houchin, senior Braedon Littrell and junior Micah Matthews are other key swimmers back for the boys. Houchin’s primary event has been breaststroke but he also is competitive in the butterfly. Littrell, the lone senior and team captain, swims the butterfly and 100 freestyle. Matthews, Mikula said, is working on different strokes to determine how he best fits into the lineup.

Sophomores Henry Katsikis and Marshall Morrison, and freshman Emmitt Gaskey round out the roster. Katsikis returns to the program after taking time off last year.

“He’s a real strong sophomore so I’m looking for him to really develop a little bit,” Mikula said. “We’re working on refining some of the stroke work.”

Morrison returns for a second year while the newcomer, Gaskey, is already showing promise with his early work in practice, the coach said.

With only seven swimmers on the roster, Philomath will likely compete in only two of the three relay events.

Mikula welcomes a new assistant coach this season with Iliana Kaiser, who recently earned a college degree and moved to the area with her family. Mikula got to know Kaiser because she started coming in for lap swimming.

“Obviously, she has some swimming background because her strokes are impeccable,” Mikula said. “I actually got her on staff as a supervisor-guard and then she started talking to some of the swimmers and next thing you know, she was able to work it out where she could also help me coach.”

Kaiser replaces Stephen Miguelez, who wasn’t able to help this season because of scheduling conflicts.

Philomath opens the season this week with a busy slate — home duals on Tuesday vs. Stayton and Friday vs. Junction City and then a trip up to Lewis & Clark College on Saturday for the Riverdale Invitational.

“We’re still working on trying to get the district to do that a little bit differently,” Mikula said about scheduling. “Everybody kind of scatters and tries to find a schedule.”

Beyond this week, other home duals are set up for Dec. 15 vs. Salem Academy, Dec. 16 vs. Kennedy, Jan. 6 vs. Crescent Valley, Jan. 11 vs. North Marion and Jan. 28 vs. Newport. The district meet will run Feb. 11-12 at Albany Community Pool and the 4A/3A/2A/1A state meet appears to be returning to the Tualatin Hills Aquatic Center in Beaverton on Feb. 18-19.

The schedule does not include a Clemens Invitational again this season. Most schools appear to still be avoiding larger meets for the most part.

“Talking to other coaches, there wasn’t great interest in it with COVID still being a thing,” Mikula said. “I think there’s still some hesitancy waiting for things to normalize a little bit … The water’s still a little murky there.”

Besides Saturday’s Riverdale meet, the Warriors will compete in one other regular-season invite with a sprint meet on Jan. 15 at Albany.

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