Swimming in the deep end
Swim team returns 10 state qualifiers and boasts 14 seniors
For most of the 14 seniors on the Moffat County High School girls swim team, chlorine and friendships go together like sunscreen and summer.
“A lot of us have been swimming together since we were eight and competing for the Sea Sharks (Craig’s summer swim club),” said senior Chloe Gilchrist. “We’ve become friends through swimming since all of us have been a Sea Shark at one time or another.”
With almost half of the 32 swimmers on this year’s team in their final season, coach Ed Stehlin noted, among other things, the depth his veterans bring to the team.
“This senior group is a pretty crazy group,” he said. “They’re also a big part of one of the most talented returning teams I’ve coached.”
The team returns 10 of the 11 state qualifiers from last year’s 18th-place finish in Class 4A.
“I only had three graduate last year,” said Stehlin, who is in his 13th year as the MoCo coach. “I would have to say the expectations are at least the same as last season.”
The girls have set higher goals.
“I think we can win districts,” said senior Nicole Vorhies the team finished sixth last season.
“People have been talking about us and how many of us there are and how good we are for a while,” said senior Cassie Owens.
While 18th place may not sound admirable at first, Stehlin explained why it was one of the best performances he has seen.
“We are one of the few true high school teams in 4A,” he said. “Of all the other 62 schools competing in the state meet, most have clubs outside of the school that allow the athletes to train and compete all year. As a team, we don’t have the opportunity to train all year.”
While they don’t have a club to fall back on, the Bulldogs do receive some help from swimmers who normally would be rivals. As the only high school swim team in Northwest Colorado, it allows for swimmers from other towns to come and compete in blue and white. This season, the team has two swimmers from Rangely and Meeker and one apiece from Steamboat Springs and Hayden.
Last year’s top finisher at state for the Bulldogs was Heather Whiting from Steamboat. As a freshman, she finished second in the 100-meter breaststroke and swam on both of the team’s state relay teams. Another top returning import is Danyelle Harmon from Meeker, who was on the 14th-place 200 freestyle relay.
The local swimmers who are returning and competed at state last year are Gilchrist, Vorhies, Jenna Waite, Miranda Hilleweart, Cara Conci, Kallie Murphy and Julie Strahan.
“We will be tough all-around,” Stehlin said. “Our most competitive events will probably be our sprints with several state qualifiers in the 50 free returning. Possibly our least depth is in the longer distances, but I’ve had several girls step up and volunteer to swim those races who can do a good job.”
One of the strongest teams Stehlin has coached at MCHS was the ’98 team and it shows by the record board on the wall of the natatorium. That team holds nearly two-thirds of the records something that this year’s group looks at every day during practice.
“I think we can put a lot of ’03s up there,” said senior Jeni Bamford. “We might as well replace them all.”
The coach and the swimmers expect their toughest Western Slope competition to come from Glenwood Springs, Montrose and Durango.
The girls weren’t too focused on the other colored swim caps in the pool too much at this point in the season.
“Feel my legs, they’re all ready getting gross,” said one of the girls, acknowledging that many of them don’t shave until the end of the season.
“That’s normal, they’re always gross,” said another contradicting the complaint about a swim-season sacrifice.
Must be a swim thing or is it a friendship thing?
For this year’s Bulldog seniors, the terms are interchangeable.
David Pressgrove can be reached at 824-7031 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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