November 23, 2001 11:00 pm
STATE CONTENDERS: La grande sophomore Matt Hibbert had a hand in scoring 35 points at last year's state swim meet for the state champion Tigers. (The Observer file photo/C.J. GISH).
STATE CONTENDERS: La grande sophomore Matt Hibbert had a hand in scoring 35 points at last year's state swim meet for the state champion Tigers. (The Observer file photo/C.J. GISH).

By Pat Perkins

Observer Staff Writer

La Grande High Schools swim teams have a choice: be satisfied as a one-year wonder or work to repeat as state champion.

Already, the talk is La Grande was a fluke. Kids are going to talk, and I try to keep my kids out of that stuff, La Grande swim coach David Deming said. Dont flaunt success, because someday its not going to be there.

La Grandes success of a year ago would be hard for most programs to repeat. The boys won a surprising state title in their first year at Class 3A and the girls finished third at state.

Both teams lost key components to graduation. The boys lost David Butler, a state champion in the 100-yard breaststroke and a member of the state champion 200 medley relay team. The girls lost Zoe Andyke, Gailen Jones and Katie Franklin, who were three-fourths of their state champion 200 medley relay.

Replacing those girls is going to be a challenge, Deming said.

Success has added to the numbers in the pool, at least for the girls. Deming has six freshmen on the girls side, two for the boys, and other beginning swimmers or those with limited competitive experience round out the roster. That will force some swimmers into JV competition because in most meets, La Grande can only have three entries per event.

A lot of them will probably be swimming freestyle events, Deming said.

The boys are more solid, if not in numbers. Seven of the 10 swimmers were on last years team, and five are seniors. Other than the freshmen, the only new swimmer is sophomore Brenton Dowdy, a club team veteran who sat out last year.

Hes going to fill Davids shoes pretty well, Deming said. He should set us up pretty well in both the relays.

Dowdys events will range from the sprints (50 and 100 freestyle) to the 200 individual medley and the 100 butterfly.

Sophomore Matt Hibbert returns as a state champion, having won the 100 butterfly as a sophomore. Backstroke is his passion (third in 100 backstroke at state), according to Deming, so look for Hibbert to compete in that event, as well as the freestyle sprints and the 200 IM.

Another veteran is sophomore Owen Kenton, who swam the relays and scored at state in the 100 and 200 freestyle. He could expand to the 500 freestyle, Deming said.

Seniors Justin Howland and Michael Esser rounded out last years state relay teams. Howland was also a fifth-place finisher in the 100 freestyle, while Esser was fifth in the 500 free. Esser will add the breaststroke this season.

Adding depth to the breaststroke will be seniors Dylan Bothum and Heath Sell, and adding sprint freestyle depth will be senior Greg Hill.

Freshmen Tyler Howland and Jeremy Younggren will add depth to the freestyle and backstroke.

We have several guys that are versatile, said Deming, who probably wont jumble his lineup too much just to get points at meets.

I dont get too involved in the guessing games I put the guys where they want to swim . I have a lot of faith in them, so I dont hesitate to swim them where theyre best at.

Recruitment goes well for third-place girls

Getting swimmers for the girls team hasnt been a problem, Deming said, although it may be a year or two before

The girls, they tend to do a pretty good job of recruiting, Deming said. Ive really been amazed at all the beginners on the team theyre progressing very well.

Another trophy finish at state isnt out of the question, but were going to have to have some kids step up this year, Deming said. Because we have so many beginners and so many freshmen out its really hard for me right now to anticipate which events were going to be strong in and which events well need help with.

The girls do have experienced swimmers returning. Senior Mandy Randolph and junior Leigh Baum were the fourth swimmers on the two state relay teams, the champion 200 medley relay and the third-place 200 freestyle relay. Baum will swim the freestyle sprints and Randolph will swim the butterfly (fourth at state) and individual medley.

Another state competitor is senior Carrie Waldrop, who was fourth in the 200 IM. Shes versatile enough that I could put her wherever I need her, Deming said.

Three other veterans are junior Liesl Mielke (distance freestyle), senior Jenny Villani (butterfly and medley) and sophomore Elizabeth Esser (sprint and distance freestyle).

The rest of the girls have limited or no experience. Juniors Natalie White and Hilary McAlister are new to the team. White is a breaststroker while McAlister will swim breast and freestyle.

Sophomore Nancy Binger has had shoulder problems in the past but is working on her breaststroke and freestyle. Sophomores Bess Buzzard and Gillian Hill are beginners who will probably swim JV freestyle.

Freshmen Jennifer Butler and Megan Dickison have club experience. Butler is strong in the backstroke and freestyle events, while Dickison is a candidate for the distance freestyle.

The teams freshmen beginners are Elisha Gerber, Laura Martin, Amy McMahan and Kelsey Woodfield.

Deming has high expectations for both teams, especially so for the boys. A top-two finish is not out of the question, but La Grande will have to do it with a target on its back.

The Tigers were an unknown quantity even up to the start of the state meet; LaSalles depth won the district meet for both boys and girls, yet La Grande finished ahead at state on both sides.

Dont expect the Tigers to flaunt that success, but dont expect success to not be there at the end of the season.

Well work on taking care of business this year and see where we can go, Deming said.