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Little Nome is big deal at region swim meet

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Posted: Wednesday, November 2, 2011 11:09 pm | Updated: 1:34 pm, Wed Jan 16, 2013.

FAIRBANKS—Amid West Valley High School’s domination of the team titles, Nome-Beltz quietly made history Saturday in the Region VI Swimming and Diving Championships at the Hamme Pool.

The Nanooks placed third in the boys 200-yard freestyle relay in a time of 1 minute, 44.17 seconds. It was a big deal because freshman Klay Baker, sophomore Jake Stettenbenz, junior Zach Sullivan and senior and team captain Nathan Blandford were collectively the first Nanooks to ever have a region medal placed around their necks.

Just as big of a deal was that each of the six Nome swimmers — two girls (junior Devynn Johnson and freshman Lacy Erickson) and the aforementioned boys — advanced to the final of an individual event.

“That’s awesome,” Blandford said by telephone Wednesday. “Our school has had (varsity) swimming for about six years, and that’s never happened to us before, and it’s good.”

Second-year head coach Kirsten Bey just contributed the achievement to good old-fashioned work ethic.

“Obviously, having just six swimmers is not going to win a meet, even if everyone got first place in every event,” Bey said by telephone Tuesday. “But getting everyone legitimately into the finals shows that we can compete with other swimmers in the state. That was our goal, to do our best.”

Saturday night was a big deal for a Nome team that’s not your typical high school aquatics program in Alaska.

The program has a varsity history of six years and most of its eight swimmers — four girls and the four boys — literally got their feet wet in the local club program, the Nome North Star Swim Team.

Obviously, Nome-Beltz houses the northernmost high school varsity swimming program in the United States. Its nearest opponents are about 510 miles southeast, and they were gathered in the Hamme Pool on Saturday night.

“Fairbanks is like our second home for swimming,” said Sharon Keeney, who was the head coach when the high school varsity program began in 2006.

The Nanooks have only competed in the Region VI meet for three years. Before that, they were engaged in musical region meets, making postseason stops in Anchorage (Region IV), Juneau (Region V) or at a pool in Kodiak, on the Kenai Peninsula, or in the Matanuska Valley (Region III).

“It was a learning experience,” Keeney recalled. “We weren’t attached to any region, and we had to ask to swim in a regional meet.”

And the podium appearance the Nanooks boys 200 freestyle relay made at the Hamme Pool wouldn’t have happened in the other region meets. In those meets, if a Nanook qualified for a final, he was instead pulled out and had to compete in a consolation final.

“It was interesting to go to different places but never be part of a region,” Keeney said. “We’re grateful that the Fairbanks teams accepted us there.”

Another unique element of the Nanooks is they competed only twice this season — at a meet in Palmer and last weekend at the Hamme Pool.

“It’s pretty hard because we practice a month straight without competing, which is the fun part of sports,” Blandford said. “You’ve got to keep at it, and we push each other all the time.”

There’s a simple reason for the brief schedule: The Nanooks are involved in other sports.

“Almost all the swimmers are doing more than one sport,” said Blandford, who before this season, ran cross country before he’d hit the pool. He is also a 5-foot-11 point guard for the Nanooks boys basketball team.

Also, year-around swimming in Nome doesn’t happen because the Nome Swimming Pool, where the Nanooks train, closes in the summer.

“Most people leave here in the summer. They either go to fish camp or leave on vacation,” Keeney said.

There are also swimmers who start off in the North Star club but don’t continue in the high school program.

“You certainly get a lot of kids in the (North Star) program in the lower grades,” said Bey, “but when kids get into junior high, they get interested in other sports where you don’t have to be soaking wet.”

That could change after four soaking wet young men had medals around their necks last Saturday night at the Hamme Pool.

Blandford hopes the history-making moment sparks an interest among younger swimmers for the high school program.

“We have a freshman, sophomore and a junior coming back next year,” Blandford noted. “I hope they get another guy to replace me, so we can have a relay team.”

CAMPUS TRAILS: West Valley graduate Zoe Kurth was a dual threat last weekend for St. Norbert College of De Pere, Wis.

The junior center had an assist for the Knights women’s hockey team in Sunday’s 3-0 season-opening win over visiting St. Benedict (Minn.). On Friday, while playing sweeper, she had scored the insurance goal for the host St. Norbert women’s soccer team in a 2-0 win over Carroll University (Wis.), clinching the Midwest Conference regular season title and a berth in the conference tournament at St. Norbert on Friday and Saturday.

Her play on the pitch earned her the Midwest Conference Defensive Performer of the Week honor on Monday.

•Wright State freshman Greg Evershed, a Hutchison graduate, posted fourth-place finishes in the 200-yard butterfly (2 minutes, 3.43 seconds) and 200 backstroke (2:13.45) during a loss to Wisconsin Milwaukee (181.5-106.5) in a men’s swimming and diving dual meet Saturday in Dayton, Ohio ... New Mexico junior and Lathrop grad Alyssa Keill placed fifth in the 200 breaststroke (2:27.71) and seventh in the 200 IM (2:15.96) during the host Lobos’ 190-110 loss to Wyoming in Saturday’s Mountain West Conference women’s dual meet

•Eielson graduates Nick Rogers and Chance Renfro each had nine tackles for their respective teams Saturday in Valley City State’s 28-14 win over Mayville State (N.D.) in a Dakota Athletic Conference football game in Valley City, N.D. Rogers is a senior cornerback for Mayville State and Renfro is a junior linebacker for Valley City. Sophomore defensive back Josh Jeffries from West Valley contributed five tackles for Mayville and senior wide receiver LeTheo Proctor, a West Anchorage grad, caught a 5-yard touchdown pass for Valley City. ... Freshman running back and West Valley grad Will Vealy led Presentation College in rushing and receiving in Friday’s 70-20 loss to College of St. Scholastica (Minn.) in the Metrodome in Minneapolis. Vealy had a game-high nine catches for 54 yards and rushed 11 times for 57 yards.

Contact staff writer Danny Martin at 459-7586.

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