The 2015 Mid-Columbia Conference girls swimming and diving season begins today in Richland at George Prout Pool, where Hanford will take on Kennewick and Kamiakin will go up against Richland.
The Bombers enter the year as defending state co-champions, having tied with Jackson of Everett for the Class 4A title last fall in Federal Way.
With most of their championship roster coming back, the Bombers are the Mid-Columbia’s most formidable squad. But plenty of talent is scattered around the area. Here’s a glimpse at what each team is bringing to the pool this fall:
RICHLAND: Coach Randy Willis says Wenatchee is the “overwhelming” favorite to win state, but the Bombers cannot be counted out. They return swimmers Alyssa Musick, Lauren Hall, Katie Schroder, April Mercer, BreAnn Bell, Marcia Kim and Claire Schaef, and divers Kelsea Hinkley and Kelsey Olsen. Only one state point scorer from last year’s team is gone (the graduated McKenzie Schroder).
Schaef finished second at state in the 500-yard freestyle and fifth in the 200 free as a freshman last season. She already has qualifying times for the 2015 WIAA meet in both events. Sophomore backstroker/freestyler Neomi Mennetrot and diver Alyssa Whittington also should help ensure a bright future for the Bombers.
WALLA WALLA: The Blue Devils are primed for success under second-year coach Nancy Rose. Mackenzie Hale, a junior and two-time 4A state qualifier in the 500 free, leads the way along with Paige Gardner, who won the 100 back and 50 free at the season-opening Richland Twilight meet Friday. She competed at state last season in the 100 free. Other likely standouts are Gardner’s twin sister, Hannah; fellow sophomore Hally Ruff; and junior Lacey Klem. Paige Gardner, Ruff, Klem and Hale swam the 400 free relay at state, and Hannah Gardner was an alternate.
KAMIAKIN: The defending Class 3A district champion has 32 girls, and some of their ties are thicker than water. Junior Madison Thurber, who last year took 13th at state in the 100 back, and freshman sibling Lilly could have an impact along with the Badgley (Madison and Natalie) and Child (Erin and Kehli) sisters.
“We have the depth to back us up,” coach Kathy Spane said.
Meanwhile, senior Saige Polanik and freshman Abby Winstead — both gymnasts — could come up huge in diving. Polanik was 11th at state last fall.
HANFORD: The Falcons, also coached by Willis, could be the 3A team that most pushes Kamiakin. Though they lost diver Kayla Lasater and state swim veterans Kayla Burnight and Janae Sullivan, they have a speedy younger crop, including sophomores Megan Gelston and Maddie Elliott. Both went to state in 2014, with Elliott finishing 15th in the 500 free. Watch out for Maha Fathali, who was seventh in the 100 breaststroke at the Champions Invite last Saturday in Moses Lake, and fellow freshmen Kayla Burck (free) and Annie Shen (breast). State diver Amanda Andersen returns for her final year.
SOUTHRIDGE: The Suns graduated four-year state swimmer Rachel Schafer, now at Butler University in Indianapolis, and reliable freestyler Meghan Moran, but coach Jason Hart believes senior sprinters Jaiden Hamilton and Rylee Best will perform well this season. Hart also expects a solid freshman year from Tri-City Channel Cats club swimmer Hilary Petersen. Sophomore diver Allison Huske placed 14th at state last season.
KENNEWICK: Alexis Murphy kicked off her senior season with victories in the 100 breast and 100 butterfly at the Richland Twilight meet. She will try to close out her career with her fourth consecutive individual state appearance. Murphy’s twin sister, Blair, is the defending 3A district champion in the 200 free.
Also keep an eye on ninth-graders Savannah Martin and Gabby Humphries.
“We have gained two fierce freshmen that we are excited to see develop as high school competitors,” first-year Lions head coach Trine Tippett said.
PROSSER/GRANDVIEW/MABTON: Prosser is fielding a squad of 23 swimmers, including senior Becky Wildman, a three-year state relay swimmer who also qualified individually last fall in the 100 breast. New coach Alice Perkins expects Norwegian exchange student Anette Erickson (100 fly, free) and freshman Kaylyn Sanders (50, 100 free) will have big years as well.
Grandview’s team of 17 swimmers is led by seniors Reagan Colson (100 breast) and Viannei Perez (100 fly, 200 individual medley), and junior Taylor Ebbelaar (100 back, fly, free). Perez won a state wrestling title at 105 pounds in February.
Prosser and Grandview are in a co-op situation with Mabton. Freshmen Katy Ott and Brianna Desmarais make up the first girls swim team in Vikings history.
SUNNYSIDE: Seniors Paytin O’Leary and Summer Hazzard will lead a team with 14 underclassmen — eight sophomores (six returning) and six freshmen. Sunnyside lost three-time state breaststroke qualifier Cassadie Moore, who will swim at Whitworth University in Spokane.
The area’s teams come to compete at the Mid-Columbia Invitational (Saturday at Serier Pool in Kennewick) and the Tri-City Championships (Oct. 10 at George Prout Pool). Mercer Island will return to defend its Mid-Columbia Invite title.
Other meets to mark on the calendar:
Kamiakin at Hanford, Sept. 29, Prout Pool: An intriguing conference dual between the reigning district champion Braves and the Falcons, who won the previous six titles.
Mukilteo Invite, Oct. 3, King County Aquatic Center, Federal Way: Richland is the defending champion of this meet, which draws teams from across Washington and out of state.
Richland vs. Hanford, Oct. 15, Prout Pool: Coach Willis’ teams go head to head in their final MCC meet of the season.
Yakima Valley Championships, Oct. 17, Lions Pool, Yakima: The valley’s best always rise to the occasion at this meet.
2A/3A/4A district championships, Oct. 29-31, Moses Lake High School: The last chance to go for a state berth.
2A/3A/4A state championships, Nov. 13-14, King County Aquatic Center, Federal Way: Last year, Wenatchee’s 200 medley relay team DQ’d in prelims, opening the door for Richland and Jackson’s big finish. It’s anyone’s guess as to how things will go this time.