FAIRBANKS — Four years and four celebrations at the Region VI Swimming and Diving Championships.
Each of the West Valley High School squads captured their fourth straight region team titles Saturday night in the Hamme Pool.
The Wolfpack girls ran away with their title, compiling 145 points. The North Pole Patriots edged the Lathrop Malemutes for the runner-up honor for the second straight year, 60-59, and the Hutchison Hawks finished fourth with three points.
“For the girls, it’s so ... I don’t know,” 10th-year Wolfpack head coach Bryan Mitchell said while pausing to absorb West Valley’s accomplishment. “For them to work as hard as they did all season long and to see it culminate to what’s going to happen soon ... it’s so awesome to see and to feel that I helped them to get to that point.”
The Wolfpack boys generated 128 points for their team title despite having only nine members on their squad this season.
“They know that they had a knife to their throat all night long,” Mitchell said, figuratively speaking, “because we haven’t been challenged like this in a while and that’s good for them.
“You want to be challenged and it’s easier for me to coach them when they know they’ve got someone chomping at their butts,” Mitchell added. “For them to go out and do it — and know they can’t make any mistakes or have any disqualifications, and we have to win the relays — is a credit to each one of them.”
North Pole, which has about 22 boys this season, finished second with 91 points. Hutchison took third place with 40 points, Lathrop came in fourth with 39 and the Nome-Beltz Nanooks gained fifth place with 28 points.
Each individual winner in the four region meets in Alaska along with the next best 12 times for each event from around the state qualify for the state championships on Friday and Saturday at Bartlett High School in Anchorage.
For diving, the top boys and girls finishers at each region meet qualified for the state competition along with the next best eight scores from around Alaska.
The Wolfpack girls garnered six individual region titles Saturday, including two each by sophomore Cassidy Heaton and senior Kira O’Donoghue. Heaton swept the distance freestyles, winning the 200-yard event in 2 minutes, 3.89 seconds and the 500 in 5:29.79.
“We all push each other, but as far as character, we’re all funny and we have a good time together,” Heaton said of the West Valley girls.
The Wolfpack’s loose demeanor translated into success this season
“They can have fun and joke with each other, and they encourage each other in practice all the time because they know all hurting because they’re all working hard,” Mitchell said.
O’Donoghue earned her pair of titles for the second straight year, winning the 200 individual medley in 2:22.34 and the100 breaststroke in 1:09.50.
The Wetterhall sisters, senior Victoria and sophomore Vanessa, also contributed for the Wolfpack with individual honors. Victoria won the 100 butterfly in 1:06.27 and Vanessa touched the wall first in 1:08.47 in the 100 backstroke.
Luis Marquez became a double region titlist for the Wolfpack for the second straight year, winning the 200 IM in 2:11.68 and repeating for the 100 butterfly gold medal in 55.72.
“It means quite a bit,” the Wolfpack junior said of winning twice in the region meet for the second straight year. “It shows I can still double my performances from last year even though I don’t have my good friend, Brandon Rankin, to push me this time.”
Rankin was the runner-up in the 100 butterfly last year.
West Valley senior Jacob Carson also was a double titlist Saturday, sweeping the sprint freestyles with times of 24.08 in the 50 and 52.83 in the 100. Juunior teammate Richard Chen took first in the 100 backstroke in 1:01.18 and sophomore Tommy O’Donoghue won for the Wolfpack in the 100 breaststroke in 1:04.10.
North Pole swept the titles in the 1-meter diving. Abby Hess easily repeated as the girls winner because the Patriots junior was the only female entry this year and senior teammate Cody Frazier set a region boys record.
Hess compiled a 393.00 total score while being uncontested.
“I was thinking about the other girls in the state and beating their scores, even though they were not here,” Hess said of her approach to the region meet.
Hess said she expects to be a little nervous on the diving board at Bartlett this coming weekend.
“I have to do better than last year, and I know there’s going to be hard competition,’’ she said. “So I’ll just have to push myself even harder down there.”
Frazier generated a 534.35 total, well surpassing the previous mark of 464.85 set last year by West Valley’s Rafe Hembree.
“My first goal was a 460, and then I wanted to do higher than that after I saw the region record that was set by Rafe Hembree, whom I competed against all of last year,’’ Frazier said. “I worked really hard.”
The Patriots also got sweeps by junior Kelsey Nore in the boys 200 free (1:55.75) and 500 free (5:10.89), and a girls 50 free title from junior Maria Villa (26.93). Lathrop’s Jade Hajdukovich won the girls 100 free in 58.51.
Martha Hood of IDEA posted preliminary times of 24.87 in the girls 50 free and 1:00.67 in the girls 100 butterfly, but she couldn’t compete in the finals because she’s wasn’t affiiliated with a program. However, her times are eligible for consideration for qualification in the state meet.
Complete Region VI meet results will be posted in the News-Miner when they become available.