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Boys eye top three state finish

After seeing a fantastic, if somewhat unexpected, performance at the 3A West Conference meet Feb. 9, fans of the Powell High School swimming and diving team will be rooting for an equally impressive encore this weekend.

The Panthers will travel to Gillette Thursday afternoon for the 3A State Championship meet. The two-day meet will pit state qualifiers from 11 Wyoming 3A schools.

Coming off a second place conference finish in front of their home crowd, the Panther swimmers are faster than they’ve been all season. Powell will boast a 13-man squad, each of whom swam at least one personal best time at conference.

“We had some pretty amazing swims at conference. Going into this meet they’ve got their actual taper working for them,” said assistant coach Jerry Rodriguez.

Peaking at the right time is something of a science in swimming, and Rodriguez said he has been trying to train his swimmers hard enough to increase their fitness and strength, and then taper them to have their bodies rested come state.

“We started out pretty hard right after conference,” Rodriguez said.

The team had morning and afternoon practices two days the week following conference before taking the foot off the pedal and holding just afternoon practices.

The workouts differ for each swimmer, based on the type of event he will compete in. Long distance swimmers are, of course, swimming longer distances, but also getting more rest, whereas sprinters have been swimming more reps of shorter distances.

“They know what they need to be doing,” Rodriguez said of his squad.

Rodriguez said the younger swimmers, or those who haven’t been to state before, start feeling nervous in the week leading up to the big event.

“(They) try to fix everything at once,” he said. “We work a lot on tightening up things like flip turns and (keeping their lines).”

With only Wednesday’s afternoon practice left before the team boards the bus and heads over the Big Horns, Rodriguez is feeling optimistic.

“We’re feeling pretty good,” he said. “You hate to jinx it or anything but we feel pretty confident that we’re going to do better than we did last year.”

The Panthers placed fourth in state a year ago, and while Rodriguez eyes an even higher finish this weekend, he knows it’s going to take some great performances and a little bit of luck.

“We’ve gone into a state (meet) before thinking we were going to do a lot better than where we ended up,” he said.

Rodriguez said a lot will depend on where opposing coaches choose to swim their top performers. Swimmers are allowed to compete in only two individual events and two relay events, regardless of how many events they qualified in during the season. This puts an emphasis on the strategic placement of swimmers by coaches. Rodriguez said he does his best to guess where the state’s other top swimmers will compete, and then places his swimmers in events in which they’ll be able to earn the most points for the team.

Three Panther swimmers qualified in eight events each this season. Juniors Edward Oursler and Nic Tracy, as well as sophomore Alex Bjornestad qualified in every swimming event. Junior Quin Wetzel qualified in seven swimming events plus the 1 meter dive.

Senior Jarred LaPierre and sophomore Ben Wetzel qualified in seven swim events each. LaPierre missed only the 100 back and Wetzel the 100 breast.

For the Panthers to reach their potential Rodriguez said they’re going to need close to a repeat of their conference showing.

“We tell them you’ve got to swim as fast as you can the first day to make it to the second day,” Rodriguez said. “And the second day you’ve got to swim even harder.”

The team plans to arrive in Gillette Thursday evening in time for dinner and a quick practice. Once at the hotel Rodriguez said he hopes to get his amped team “calmed down enough to get some sleep.”

Friday’s events begin at 3 p.m. with the diving preliminaries. Swimming preliminaries will follow. Admission is $5 for adults and $3 for students.

Saturday’s finals will start at 10 a.m. and follow a regular meet schedule. Admission is $6 for adults and $4 for students. Tickets for both days will also be available at $8 for adults and $5 for students.

The Campbell County Aquatic Center is located at 800 East Warlow Drive in Gillette.

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