The Richland and Hanford high school girls swim teams have entered a new era.
Separate coaches, separate programs.
And now, both are in the Class 4A ranks.
Jesse Grow, who has coached the Richland and Hanford boys since 2014, has taken over as the Hanford girls coach. Wes Bratton leads the Richland girls.
“A little smaller team has been easier to build team unity, and we all love the additional pool space (at practice),” Bratton said. “I think both teams are really liking that.”
For the first time in more than 20 years, neither Kathy Piper nor Randy Willis is on the pool deck. They coached the Richland and Hanford programs together for two decades before Piper retired in 2014. Willis stepped down this year.
“I just feel honored to step in and try to fill his shoes,” said Bratton, whose daughter, Lisa, swam for Richland from 2010-13.
Both programs have plenty of veterans in the pool.
Richland junior Claire Schaef placed third in the 200- and 500-yard freestyle at last year’s 4A state meet in Federal Way. She will try to help the Bombers improve on last fall’s fifth-place team finish.
Senior Katie Schroder was 13th at state last year in the 100 breaststroke and 23rd in the 200 individual medley.
Junior Neomi Mennetrot, who finished 20th in the 50 free, is back along with fellow state relay swimmers Marcia Kim and BreAnn Bell.
On the diving board, Richland must figure out how to replace 2015 4A state champion Kelsea Hinkley and Kelsey Olsen, who closed out her career with a 12th-place finish. The Bombers have three divers this year: Alyssa Whittington, Savannah Mazurkiewicz and Lydia Mitchell.
Over at Hanford, which finished 18th in last year’s 3A state meet, juniors Megan Gelston and Maddie Elliott lead the way along with sophomore Kayla Burck.
At state in 2015, Gelston tied for 13th in the 100 backstroke, and Elliott was 16th in the 100 breast. Burck finished 20th in the 200 free.
The Falcons also return Annie Shen, a state relay swimmer as a freshman.
Hanford has bolstered its roster with Kjerstyn Jordheim (distance free), Victoria Heard (butterfly) and Lian Koeppel (backstroke). Sophomore diver Lacey Bender could help soften the blow of losing Amanda Andersen, who was 10th at state as a senior.
“Hanford moving into the 4A classification is huge at every level,” Grow said. “I am excited to see how our team stacks up against the other 4A powerhouses in the state at the big meets.”
Hanford and Richland will battle with Walla Walla, which returns state competitors Paige and Hannah Gardner, Hally Ruff and Lacey Klem. Paige Gardner was seventh at state last year in the 100 free and 22nd in the 100 back, and Ruff took 15th in the 50 free. But the Blue Devils lost three-year state swimmer Mackenzie Hale, who is training with the Tri-City Channel Cats.
CLASS 3A: Kamiakin’s Madison Thurber appears poised for a big senior year. Last season, she finished 12th at state in the 100 back and 22nd in the 200 IM.
The Braves’ other returning state swimmers are sophomores SaLee Westermeyer and Lilly Thurber, junior Courtney Lewis and senior Carissima Sartor.
Kamiakin could rack up some big diving points with sophomores Abby Winstead and Piper Polanik, who helped the Braves win their third consecutive 1A/2A/3A state gymnastics team title in February. Winstead was 21st in state diving last year, while Polanik’s older sister, Saige (now graduated), was fifth.
Southridge sophomore Hilary Petersen is the defending 3A district champion in the 100 free. Suns freshman Emma Hagner could be a standout in the 100 back.
Kennewick graduated five seniors, including twins Alexis and Blair Murphy, both of whom competed at state all four years. Alexis Murphy was the 2015 Mid-Columbia Conference swimmer of the year.
The Lions’ strength might be diving. Coach Trine Tippett said sophomore Cheyanne Posey “has already mastered 11 beautiful dives,” and freshman Caitlyn Carter, a former gymnast, is “right on her tail.”
MCC teams open the season Friday at the Richland Twilight meet at George Prout Pool.
This week, it was decided that the MCC and Greater St. Helens League will join up this year for girls and boys district swimming. Meet dates, times and locations have yet to be finalized.
CLASS 2A: Grandview senior Taylor Ebbelaar returns after battling shoulder injuries. The Greyhounds also have freestyler Brianna Desmarais, a sophomore transfer from Mabton, and breaststrokers Hannah Binfet (sophomore) and Maxine Ocampo (junior).
Prosser is looking for sophomore Kaylyn Sanders to make a return trip to state; she tied for 23rd in the 50 free last year in Federal Way. Other Mustangs to watch include senior Ali Cox (200/500 free, backstroke) and sophomore Rachel Blount (backstroke).