Chris Peterson Havre Daily News email@example.com
Last year, the Havre High swim teams proved once again how dominant they are in Class A, but with a new year comes new challenge as both teams prepare to defend their state championships this weekend in Hardin. Last season the Havre High girls swim team tied a state record by winning their eighth consecutive state championship. The Blue Ponies racked up 72 points, finishing 58 points ahead of second-place Hardin. If the Pony girls can win another championship at the all-class state swim meet this weekend, they will break the record for most state championships won by a girls sports program in Montana high school sports history. “I think that both of our teams have good chances to win it again this year,” HHS head coach Chris Inman said. “The most important thing for our team is to do well in the relays. We have to do well in the relays if our teams want to win.” Not to be overshadowed, the HHS boys swim team will also enter this weekend as the defending state champions. The Ponies cruised to the title last year by amassing 42 points compared to just eight for runner-up Billings Central. The 2007 boy's state championship was the first time since 2003 that Havre swept both the boys and girls state championships. Because it is an all-class state meet, all Class A teams are forced to compete and score points against Class AA schools in the pool. The key to the Ponies’ success in swimming over the years has been their ability to dominate the relay events. Last year in Great Falls, the girls notched six individual Top 12 finishes, but managed to score points in the 200-freestyle relay, the 200-medley relay and the 400-freestyle relay. The boys finished the meet with just two individual finishes in the Top 12, but much like the girls team, the Ponies dominated the three relay events on their way to victory. The girls will be led in their attempt for a ninth straight state title by Mary Beth Blankenship, Kenzie Johnson, Kacie Johnson, Jamaicha Kaercher and Jessica Obrecht. Blankenship, Kacie Johnson, Kenzie Johnson and Obrecht will all play key roles on the relay teams and in the individual events. Aside from the relays, HHS is stong in the freestyle events, especially Kenzie Johnson, who has been the Ponies' most consistent scorer this season. Kaercher is particularly good in the grueling 500-yard freestyle race. “I think that our girls relay teams should do really well,” Inman said. “I think that all three teams might have a chance to finish in the top six. We need to at least beat Hardin in one if not two of the three relays events if we want to win.” The HHS boys also have a couple of key components coming back for another state title, highlighted by Steven Barton and D.J. Stucker. Barton played a key role in last year’s state championship by placing in the Top 12 in two individual events. Barton and Stucker were both key members of the boys three relays teams that finished in the Top 12 a year ago. Other contributors for the boys include Jake Lilletvedt, Chris Kostelecky and Grayon Vukasin. “Steven and D.J. are both senior leaders for our team, they are both big parts of our success,” Inman said. “Steven has really gotten a lot better. He did such a great job last year and he has a chance to finish in the top six in the 50-meter freestyle and the 100-backstroke.” The team that may stand in the way of another Havre sweep of the state swim titles is Hardin. Hardin finished second in the girls meet in 2007 and third in the boys. “Hardin is a very good team, but our kids have been in this situation before,” Inman said. “They know what it takes to win a state championship. They know that they cannot make the little mental mistakes like false starting. They know what they have to do and I think that gives us a bit of an advantage.” The Blue Ponies will travel all the way to Hardin to compete in the state meet. The 2008 state swim meet will begin today with preliminary races, and finish up on Saturday with the finals.