FAIRBANKS—The West Valley High School swimming team collectively hopes to raise four fingers Saturday night at the Region VI Swimming and Diving Championships at Hamme Pool.
The gestures would signify four straight years of region team titles for the Wolfpack boys and girls squads.
“If we win this year, it would be four for four — both titles four years in a row,” West Valley head coach Bryan Mitchell said during a telephone interview Wednesday night.
“That shows dedication, that shows hard work and that shows a lot of want to,” Mitchell said.
The region meet begins at 6 p.m. today with diving preliminaries and swimming preliminaries start at 6 Friday night. The swimming and diving finals are scheduled to start at the same time Saturday night.
The region meet, one of four around Alaska, serves as a qualifier for the state championships Nov. 2-3 at Bartlett High School in Anchorage.
The state qualifiers for swimming are the top finisher in each event of the region meets and the next best 12 times for each event from around Alaska. For diving, the state qualifiers will be the top two boys and girls each at the region competitions and the next best eight scores each from around Alaska.
Based on last Saturday’s all-schools meet at Hamme Pool, North Pole could be a threat to West Valley’s bid for a fourth straight boys region team trophy. The Wolfpack and the Patriots tied for first place with 113 points each in the final all-schools meet of the season.
“I think the last meet kind of boosted their confidence,” North Pole coach Don Murray said Wednesday. “To be able to tie West Valley with their performances shows that they were able to perform at a high enough level to boost their confidence and raise their spirits.
“I think it will help launch them into an exceptional weekend for the regional meet,” Murray said.
North Pole also won in an all-schools meet Sept. 15 at the Westcott Pool in North Pole. However, most of West Valley’s top swimmers were at the Kenai Invitational that weekend.
Mitchell said last weekend’s tie at the Hamme Pool shows the depth of North Pole’s boys squad, which placed second to the Wolfpack in last year’s region meet. The Lathrop Malemutes placed third followed, respectively, by the Nome Nanooks, Hutchison Hawks and Monroe Catholic Rams.
“They have a good group of boys,” Mitchell said of North Pole. “It’s important that for what we lack in depth, we make up for in performance.”
West Valley has nine boys this season among its 30 athletes, while North Pole has about 22 boys among 39 athletes.
Among the top boys swimmers for West Valley is junior Luis Marquez, who at last year’s region meet, won individually in the 200-yard freestyle and 100 butterfly, and was part of the winning 200 medley and 400 freestyle relays.
“He’s had an incredible year, and by far, he’s the best all-around swimmer I’ve had in a long time,” said Mitchell, who has coached the Wolfpack for 10 years.
Junior Richard Chen also won the 200 individual medley for West Valley at last year’s region meet.
West Valley has no divers this season while the North Pole boys have title contenders in seniors Cody Frazier and Dakota Koch, who, respectively, placed second and third in the 2011 region meet.
Patriots junior Kelsey Nore is expected to contend for the 200 and 500 freestyle titles. He was the region 500 runner-up last year.
West Valley’s girls are favored to earn their fourth region title, and two region winners from last year were among the returning Wolfpack this season. Kira O’Donoghue won in 2011 in the 200 IM and 100 breaststroke and fellow senior Victoria Wetterhall captured the 100 butterfly title.
Wolfpack teammate Cassidy Heaton is expected to contend for the 500 free title after placing second last year.
“This is probably the best team chemistry I’ve ever had in terms of a girls squad,” Mitchell said.
North Pole edged Lathrop by one point — 60-59 — last year for girls region runner-up honor, and Murray expects another close outcome this year.
“It’s a tight race this year for the region runner-up. West Valley looks pretty strong,” Murray said. “Our girls have come on strong during the last part of the season, and they’ve been getting better times.”
Patriots junior Abby Hess is aiming to repeat for the region girls diving title and junior teammate Maria Villa is among North Pole’s contenders for a region swimming title after she placed second in the 50 freestyle last year.
Martha Hood of IDEA is expected to contend in the girls 100 butterfly and 100 backstroke, events she won last weekend in the all-schools meet.
However, because she’s not affiliated with a Region VI program, her results wouldn’t be deemed as region titles if she won, but her times would be submitted toward qualifying for berths in the state meet.
Contact staff writer Danny Martin at 459-7586.