Take one look at the trophy cases at Havre High School and you understand just how successful the Blue Pony swimming program has been, for years now.
Under head coach Chris Inman, the Pony boys and girls have thrived in the water, winning multiple Class A state championships on both sides of the coin.
And, as a new season has gone, the Ponies have worked hard to have a chance at more swimming glory, and the time to go after it is now.
Today and Saturday, the Blue Pony swim teams will compete in the 2012 Montana State Swimming Championships at the Bison Fieldhouse Pool in Great Falls.
The state swim meet is unique in that, in the team competition, Havre competes only against Billings Central and Hardin, but all swimmers in Class A and AA swim together in the same heats and same finals. Then, points are distributed to either AA teams or Class A teams.
So in reality, Class A teams who have any swimmers or relay teams which can place in the top six in a given race stand the best chance of capturing state teams titles. The races are usually loaded with quality AA swimmers, so placing in the top six for Class A swimmers is at a huge premium. And getting in the top 12 is perhaps even more vital.
This weekend, the Havre High teams will need plenty of those points as the Ponies try to dethrone Billings Central. The Rams ran away with the girls title a year ago, while the Rams and Ponies tied for the boys championship.
“I’m really excited about the progress the kids have made this season,” Inman said. “They’ve all worked so hard. The progress by both the boys and girls has been tremendous, and it’s time to see all their hard work pay off. But I couldn’t be happier about how this season has gone. This is a great group of kids to work with.”
The HHS boys have perhaps the best shot at claiming a state championship. The Ponies have been stellar all season, and have had multiple swimmers place at different meets — against quality Class AA competition. But the Rams won’t be an easy team to pass in the team standings. Central has also been stellar all year long, and it should be a dogfight in the pool between the two rivals.
“Billings Central boys are definitely the favorite,” Inman said. “But we’re definitely close to them. We will need some top-six finishes from our relay teams, which I think our boys can do. And we’ll need some of the AA teams to take away some of those points where Billings Central is stronger. But it’s definitely going to be close.”
HHS will send Evan Flathers, Desmond Fialkosky, Courtlan Vukasin, Taylor Riphenburg, Nick Rhines, Ben Siegel, Bryant O’Leary, Josh Emge and Paul Jeffery to the state meet. Evans will swim all three relays and the 50-meter freestyle, while Fialkosky will swim the 100 breaststroke, the 200 medley relay and 200 free relay. Vukasin will swim the 100 breast, the 200 medley relay and the 200 free relay, Riphenburg will swim the 50 free and all three relays and Rhines will swim the 200 free and the 200 and 400 free relays. Siegel will enter the 500 and 100 free, O’Leary will swim the 100 free and the 100 breast, Emge will swim the 50 free and 100 free and Jeffrey will swim the 50 free and the 100 breast.
“I think we can do very well with all three of our relay teams,” Inman said. “Individually, Evan Flathers and Taylor Riphenburg both have an outstanding chance at placing high. I think all of our boys though have made great progress this season. It’s been incredible to watch the progress of kids like Desmond Fialkosky and Nick Rhines. They’ve done such a fantastic job. Our boys team has an excellent chance. Again, Billings Central is the favorite, but anything can happen and I know our boys will swim their hardest and do their best.”
On the girls side, HHS is a little more inexperienced, and the Ponies are chasing a juggernaut in Billings Central. They’ve also been right there with Hardin all season, so it will be interesting to see what happens this weekend.
“The girls will need a little bit more to have a chance against Billings Central,” Inman said. “They (Rams) are very tough. They will place at least six or seven swimmers, and that’s going to be a huge hurdle to overcome for our girls. But our girls have worked very hard, they have been amazing in practice and all we’ve talked about this week is going out and swimming their very best and trying their hardest. That’s all anyone can ask of them.”
One HHS swimmer who has a chance to have a fantastic weekend in Great Falls is senior Megan Obrecht. She’s one of the top 100-meter breaststroke swimmers in Montana and she’ll be gunning to place as high as she can this weekend. Obrecht will also compete in all three relays for the Ponies.
Joining Obrecht is Katie Johnson, who will swim the 200 individual medley and all three relays; Lieza Reighard, who will swim the 50 free and all three relays; and Larissa Price, who’s entered in the 500 and 100 free. Jordyn Eastlick will swim the 200 free and 100 backstroke; Morgan Jappe will swim the 100 and 50 free; McKenna Barkus will swim the 100 and 200 free; and Carona Sprinkle will swim the 200 free, the 500 free and 400 free relay. Anna Kaercher, who is entered in the 500 and 100 free, and Skylar Vukasin, who will swim the 50 free, 100 free and 200 MR, round out the Pony girls lineup.
And while HHS will have to battle the Rams and the rest of the AA swimmers in the pool, one of the advantages the Ponies have is the fact that the state meet is in Great Falls. Inman said, because the Ponies swim there so often, her teams know the pool, the walls and the blocks well, and she said all of those are key elements to finding success this weekend.
And make no mistake, the Ponies are a proud swim team and they are gunning for the top today and Saturday.
“They are all just very excited to get to state and do their best,” Inman said of her team. “This team is focused on starts and turns and just doing the best job they can. This is a very fun time for them.”
The 2012 Montana State Swimming Championships get under way this afternoon in Great Falls with preliminary heats. The finals are set for Saturday at the Bison Fieldhouse Pool.