February 06, 2002 11:00 pm
FREE AS A FISH: Owen Kenton is one of La Grande's top freestyle swimmers. (The Observer/PAT PERKINS).
FREE AS A FISH: Owen Kenton is one of La Grande's top freestyle swimmers. (The Observer/PAT PERKINS).

By Raenelle Kwock

Observer Staff Writer

This weekend is no ordinary one for La Grande high school swim team members. On Friday and Saturday, they will compete in the District 2-3A/2A/1A Swimming Championships at Linfield College and find out if they earn berths in next weeks state tournament.

We have a lot of kids working extremely hard at practice, and I think thats going to pay off, La Grande swim coach David Deming said.

The boys expect to win the meet, Deming said, and the girls expect to finish in the top three the first day and set themselves up for the second day.

We should easily place in the top two at districts, swimmer Michael Esser said.

The boys have gone undefeated this season, a streak that will be tough to maintain this weekend.

Esser said the boys toughest competition is Sherwood and Valley Catholic. These teams each have 15 swimmers, compared to La Grandes 10. That was a factor last year, when La Salles depth helped it win the boys district title.

La Grande, however, went on to win the state title. The girls were fourth at state after finishing second at district.

Swimmer Justin Howland said the Tigers have more higher-caliber swimmers, meaning La Grande has more swimmers who will win races. A first-place team finish, however, could require depth.

I think that we will hold our own, the girls Carrie Waldrop said. Our team is young.

The girls strength will be in its relays. The 200-meter medley relay was second at the Cascade Semester Swim in Stayton two weeks ago, as was the 200 freestyle relay.

Deming is excited to see how his first-year swimmers will fare as they are exposed to a big meet.

Waldrop said the team practices by swimming sets averaging about 5,000 yards a day. The team practices every school day before classes start.

Swimmer Owen Kenton said the team tapered down Wednesday and got mentally set before leaving today for McMinnville.