By Ryan Divish/Havre Daily News Sports Editorfirstname.lastname@example.org
The Havre High swim teams are a victim of their own success. And it has been success, unprecedented success since the changing of high school swimming to two separate divisions.
Since the inception of Class A as a separate swimming classification, the Ponies have simply dominated with four consecutive state boys and girls championships.
The Ponies will begin their drive for five straight titles on Friday in Great Falls at the Class A state championship swim meet at the Great Falls High Pool.
For many of the Pony swimmers, it will be their first foray at the spectacle that is a state meet. It's a nerve-racking, pressure-packed and intensity-laden two days with every team in Class AA and Class A competing against each other. The points are then figured accordingly with champions crowned in each class.
"We're taking a whole bunch of new people to state for first time," said head coach Chris Inman. "It will be an eye-opening experience for them."
Besides the sheer number of competitors and fans, the entire format for the meet is different with preliminaries taking place on Friday and consolation finals and championship finals being held on Saturday.
While both the Pony boys and girls squads have many newcomers, the situations are very different for each team as they vie for their respective team titles.
For the Pony girls, the question isn't so much as if they will, but by how much. It isn't a bold prediction, but more of a fact by numbers.
The HHS girls will bring 19 swimmers to the state meet, the most that head coach Chris Inman has taken during her tenure as the head coach.
"You know they keep lowering the time standards every year and every year we seem to qualify more kids," Inman said. "It shows how hard are kids are working."
With 19 girls, the Ponies rival some Class AA schools with their number of participants. While admittedly every swimmer won't place in the meet that features both AA and A schools, the Pony girls have enough firepower to propel them to another title.
"It would take something major for us not to win," Inman said. "We're the deepest Class A school by far. The highest we ever finished with all of the schools is sixth and I think we can beat that this year."
The individual scoring starts with the foursome of Danielle Barton, Gwen Porter, Kasie Teske and Rachel Hansen, who make up both the 200 medley and 200 freestyle relay squads. For almost every meet this season, the same quartet has swum those two relays with success.
"I think it's really helped that we've been together all season," Teske said. "We just can't have any mental mistakes or errors and we'll be fine."
Inman believes that fine may be an understatement.
"We're very capable of placing in the top six in both of those relays," she said. "Those are big points for us."
Havre also has a solid chance of earning points in the 400 freestyle relay with the team of Brittne Zimmer, Morgan Zimmer, Hartman and Emily Kostelecky.
Individually, Inman will look to Teske in the 50 freestyle and 100 butterfly, Hansen in the 50 freestyle and 100 freestyle, Porter in the 50 freestyle, Barton in the 100 backstroke and Katie Hartman in the 100 butterfly to have shots at making the consolation finals.
"All of those girls are capable of finishing in the top 12," Inman said.
While the girls seemed poised to add another trophy to the case, the Havre boys have some serious work cut out for them if they hope to make it a five-peat.
With only eight boys qualifying, Inman will need quality performances to make up for the lack of quantity of performances.
And according to Inman, the boys can't rely on junior Scott Robinson to do it by himself.
"Scott's a good kid and a good leader," Inman said. "But how we do at state isn't completely on Scott's shoulders. The other boys know that they have to step up and swim well for them to win it again."
It will be a difficult task considering that only three of the eight boys qualified - Robinson, Kevin Friede, Bryden Vukasin - have swum at a state meet.
"I'm really worried about the boys," Inman said. "We're taking five kids who have never been to state."
Those five - Sam Simpson, Jordan Croft, Matt Hartman, Ryan Kinholt and Jordan Magelssen - will all compete individually as well in the relays.
Robinson will still score the wealth of the Pony points, with top-six finishes in the 50 and 100 freestyles likely. He will also anchor the 200 free relay and swim the butterfly leg of the 200 medley relay.
It's those two relays where the boys can gain some serious points and build a foundation for a title.
"We can't make any mental mistakes," Robinson said. "The relays have to be very fast. The starts make the difference. The timing has just to be right and our turns also have to be quick. Those things save valuable seconds and can the difference between first and second place."
Inman echoed Robinson's statements citing the boys' top rival Billings Central as the perfect example.
"It comes down to those mental mistakes," Inman said. "That's what has plagued Billings Central all season. They have had relay teams disqualified in meets this year and it hurt them. It happens at state all the time, if a team gets disqualified, we need to be right there to step in."
With all the new faces, Inman knows there will be some nervous swimmers during their first events.
"I had some people who are experienced with the state meet talk about what it's like," Inman said. "Hopefully it helps, but you can talk all you want about it, until you experience it's not the same."
As for maintaining the success at state, Inman was diplomatic about her teams' success. Obviously, she wants to win, but it won't be the end of the world if one, or both, don't win it all.
"I just want them to swim their hardest and whatever happens, happens," Inman said. "If they go out and give everything they have, then they are winners no matter what the score says."