The conference meet is the last chance for state hopefuls to qualify, and a chance for the team to place highly in a meet half the size of state.
“At conference we have a chance to do better based on the depth of our team,” Panthers assistant coach Jerry Rodriguez said.
The Panthers, whose team is second only to Lander in terms of roster size, should be able to score points not just by winning events, but by consistently placing multiple swimmers near the top of the results.
Rodriguez is hopeful but realistic about Powell’s chances against the Lander Tigers.
“Lander is just assumed to win first place,” he said. “Second place is the new first place as far as we’re concerned.”
Rodriguez said the team should benefit from being at its hometown during the meet. Swimmers get to sleep in their own beds and possess a familiarity with the pool that could give them an edge.
Rodriguez said his team should be rested for conference after a tough schedule the past week, though the team will remain having two-a-day practices until after conference.
Here is the swim team’s past week in review.
A graduating senior left a lasting mark and a freshman etched out his first at the Worland Triangular Jan. 29.
In his final year as a Panther, senior Jarred LaPierre has ensured his legacy will live on following graduation.
LaPierre entered the Powell High School record books by swimming the third fastest 500 free in Powell Panther history.
His time of 5:16.65 in the 500 free just barely beat Ryan Johnson’s 1997 time of 5:16.70.
Rodriguez said he expected LaPierre to get near the record by this point in the season, and has higher hopes for him still.
“We’re pretty sure he’ll go faster than that at state,” Rodriguez said. “That’s being really tired and not shaved or tapered or anything.”
Unfortunately for Powell, the third-best performance in school history was only the second fastest at the Worland Triangular, as LaPierre had the misfortune of racing against Warriors sophomore Connor Petty, who owns the second-fastest 500 free time in 3A.
LaPierre would also finish second in the 200 free with a personal best 1:57.03.
Freshman Tyson Wages qualified in his first ever high school event. Just four days after coming up .07 seconds short, Wages qualified in the 100 back with a third place finish and will now participate in the event at the state championship meet in Gillette.
Rodriguez said Wages’ accomplishment is impressive for a freshman who had only middle school swimming experience before this year.
“He’s come along really well,” Rodriguez said. “He had been wanting to be with the group (at state). It’s a pretty big thing for those (young) guys.”
Wages finished behind sophomore Alex Bjornestad, who won the 100 back with a time of 1:08.02.
Junior Jakob Bowers qualified in the 500 free, placing third behind LaPierre, with a time of 5:49.99. Rodriguez said Bowers beat his old high school time by more than a minute and his best USA Swimming by 22.01 seconds.
Powell’s 200 medley relay team gave the Panthers a victory to start the double dual.
The team of Nic Tracy, Edward Oursler, Jakob Bowers and Ben Wetzel beat the second-place Warriors by 9.13 seconds.
Powell’s second relay team was just 1.28 seconds behind Worland, placing third in the event.
The Panthers won their duals against Worland and Cody, beating the Warriors 92-79 and the Broncs 120-47. Worland beat Cody 91-58.
The Panthers spent this past weekend on the east side of the Big Horns, starting with a dual at Buffalo on Friday.
Powell won only two events but placed well enough in the other events to keep the score close, ultimately losing to the Bison 94-85.
Bowers won the 100 fly, just a day before he would set a new best time in the event. Bowers’ time of 1:02.31 was just .64 seconds ahead of second place Neil Medders of Buffalo.
Tracy won the 100 back with a time of 1:02.61. Tracy was second in the 200 IM, with a time of 2:23.65, 11.33 seconds behind the victorious Medders.
Bjornestad finished fourth in the race, swimming a personal best time of 2:28.68.
La Pierre was the runner up in the 200 free, finishing just .98 seconds behind Buffalo senior Nate Holt. Ben Wetzel and Wages finished third and fourth in the event, respectively.
Holt bested LaPierre by an even smaller margin in the 500 free, winning by only .14 seconds. LaPierre’s time of 5:26.79 was a full 10 seconds slower than his record-setting time of Jan. 29.
A Powell swimmer didn’t win the 50 free, but Panthers placed second through fifth in the sprint. Oursler, senior Matt Riedhammer, junior Quin Wetzel and freshman Seth Fuller rounded out the top-five.
Oursler also finished third in the 100 free, with Fuller, Wages and junior Dan Liggett behind him in fourth, fifth and sixth.
Ben Wetzel narrowly missed qualifying in the 100 breast, finishing just .41 seconds slow of the 3A qualifying time. He finished second in the event.
Powell’s three relay teams were each denied a victory for the first time during a dual against a team not hailing fromLander.
The Panthers’ “A” team finished second in the 200 medley, 200 free and 400 free relays. Powell came closest to victory in the 200 free, which they lost by 2.71 seconds.
Powell was one of only seven 3A teams in the 18-field at the Gillette Invitational Feb. 2.
Rodriguez said swimming in Gillette, in the biggest meet of Powell’s season, is a great experience for his team. Not only do they get to swim in the same pool they will swim in come state, they also get to compare themselves to the many 4A swimmers in attendance.
“If you can beat a few 4A guys that’s a feather in your hat,” he said.
Riedhammer qualified in the 500 free and six other Panthers set new personal bests as the team finished 12th overall and fourth of the 3A teams.
Riedhammer’s fifth qualification of the season came as he cut 17.87 seconds off his previous 500 free time and took 35th in the ultra-competitive meet with a time of 6:17.02.
Liggett finished one spot and 1.38 seconds behind Riedhammer in the 500 free, with his career-best time of 6:18.40.
Quin Wetzel finished 24th in the 100 fly by taking 1.89 seconds off his previous best time. Bjornestad set his second personal best time last weekend in the 100 fly. His time of 1:08.99 was good for 30th in the race.
Bowers was Powell’s highest finisher in the 100 fly, placing 12th with his best time of 1:02.04.
LaPierre continued his strong season with a slight improvement in the 50 free. His new time of 25.53 was a cut of .03 seconds, and good for 27th place.
Oursler, who has qualified in every swimming event this season, shaved .30 seconds off of his 100 breaststroke time.
Powell finished with 119 points, 43 ahead of Cody and 139.5 behind Lander, which was the top 3A team and fifth overall.