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‘An awesome performance,’ Panther swim team claims second place at 3A State meet

PHS junior Ben Wetzel raises his arms in victory and slaps the surface of the water after winning the 500 freestyle and setting a Powell High School record in the process. PHS junior Ben Wetzel raises his arms in victory and slaps the surface of the water after winning the 500 freestyle and setting a Powell High School record in the process. Tribune photos by Toby Bonner

For the first time in more than 20 years, the Powell High School boys’ swim team seized second at the 3A state meet in Gillette Friday.

Lander Valley High School once again came in first.

The last time Powell won second was in 1991, according to the Wyoming High School Activities Association records, said Powell High School coach Stephanie Warren.

“We had such a great performance by all swimmers, and they continued to drop time and break school records,” Warren said. “It was an awesome performance by the swimmers.”

“This state championship was one for the record books for the PHS boys,” said Powell High School assistant coach Jerry Rodriguez, who also was a winner in the three-way tie for the 2014 Boys 3A Assistant Coach of the Year.

“A title that is well deserved,” Warren said. “Jerry has been building this swim team for the past 12 years. Some of our seniors started swimming with him when they were between the ages of 6 to 8. He has put an enormous amount of dedication, time, energy and hours into this team well before his high school coaching career ever started. I have coached with some amazing coaches, and Jerry is not any different. He is one major component to the success the PHS swim team has had this year.”

Junior Ben Wetzel was among the four chosen for the Sportsmanship Awards. Wetzel and Rodriguez were honored by the Wyoming Swim Coaches Association. 

“Ben Wetzel dominated the 500 freestyle from the start and ended up winning by more than 6 seconds ahead of the second-place swimmer,” Rodriguez said. “Ben Wetzel’s time of 5:00.47 also moves him to first place in the 500 free, in the PHS Swimming Hall of Fame, breaking a school record set by Jory Turk in 1988 by nearly 8 seconds.” 

“Joining him are (senior) Edward Oursler and (junior) Billy Baker,” Warren said. “All three of them had their best performances of the year. Both Edward and Billy have moved into the fifth-place spot in the PHS Hall of Fame — Edward for 100 breast and Billy for the 100 back (58.38).”

Oursler’s preliminary time of 1:05.77 made his the fifth-fastest time in PHS history, adding his name to the Hall of Fame, Rodriguez said.

Baker’s time was 58.38 for third place in the 100 backstroke. Senior Nic Tracy followed at fourth with a 59.12 time, and junior Alex Bjornestad finished in sixth with 1:01.17 on the 100 backstroke.

In a very fast and close race, Ben Wetzel cut more than 4.5 seconds off his best time and ended up in a second place tie with a Lander swimmer with a time of 1:49.77 in the 200 freestyle. “That time is also the second-fastest time in PHS history for the event,” Rodriguez said. 

“We had some pretty exciting preliminary races on Thursday, with our goal being to place as many as possible in the top 12 in every event,” Rodriguez said.

Nearly every member of the team, and all three relays, did just that, he said.

The Panther 200 medley relay team of seniors Tracy, Oursler, Jakob Bowers and Baker held fourth place with a season best time of 1:47.02.

The 200 freestyle relay of Baker, Tracy, Fuller and Ben Wetzel swam a season-best time of 1:36.77 and moved up to fifth place.

In the 200 individual medley, Fuller was sixth, cutting his personal best time by 6 seconds (2:14.67), and Bjornestad was eighth, also cutting 6 seconds off his best time of 2:14.46.

In the 50 freestyle, Baker was seeded eighth in prelims but was only able to move up to seventh place despite having the fifth-fastest time of 23.44.

In diving, senior Jake MaGill placed sixth, senior Quin Wetzel was eighth and freshman Garret Henderson was 11th, with scores of 268.85, 252.65 and 227.25, respectively.

Bowers was fifth in the 100 butterfly with a personal best time of 58.85, and Tracy was seventh, also with a personal best time of 59.02. “Quin Wetzel was 16th and sophomore Tyson Wages, after battling a week of the flu, courageously swam but could only make 18th place,” Rodriguez said.

In the 100 freestyle, Fuller was ninth and Oursler, 10th, for personal-best times of 53.56 and 53.62, respectively.

Senior Dan Liggett swam a 5:43.15 in prelims, trimming more than 12 seconds from his personal-best time in the 500 freestyle, but had to settle for 11th place in finals. Freshman Joe Kuntz, in his first state meet, was 16th in the 500 free.

“In the 100 backstroke, we had a great showing, with three athletes making the top six,” Rodriguez said.

Behind Baker, Tracy was fourth with a time of 59.12 and Bjornestad sixth with a time of 1:01.17.

“Our only entry in the 100 breaststroke, Edward Oursler, placed fifth,” Rodriguez said.

In the final event, the 400 freestyle relay, the team of Bowers, Fuller, Ben Wetzel and Oursler combined to swim a season-best time of 3:35.21 for fifth place, beating Worland’s team and sealing the Panther’s second place in the overall team standings.

“On Friday, we came into finals, knowing that the top three team places would most likely be Lander, Powell and Worland, with the scores being very close,” Rodriguez said.

That prediction was spot on. Lander had 274.5 points, PHS, 195.5 and Worland was third with 176.5 points. Out of 12 teams, Cody High School came in ninth with 66 points.

Lander typically is the 3A state champion with exceptions of 1991, when Lander joined 3A swimming and took fourth, 1993 when Lander took second, and 1996 when they took second again, Rodriguez said. 

“It has been an outstanding season, and I am thankful to the boys for their dedication and hard work, the swimmers’ parents for their support and especially head coach Stephanie Warren for her patience, guidance and encouragement,” Rodriguez said.

She has great expectations for next year. “It is sad to see such a strong senior class go, but we will be gaining between five to seven new athletes who all have some swimming experience. We are going to have another strong senior class next year. Ben Wetzel, Billy Baker and Alex Bjornestad will be great leaders. We should have another great season next year.”

1 comment

  • posted by stephen finch

    March 04, 2014 11:07 am

    my son-in law was the high school swimming coach 13 years ago wayne goodman and my daughter was an english teacher angie goodman. first time out in that part country was great compared to the small state of indiana.i think they were out there for about seven years. our first grand daughter was born there at powell hospital.took 15 hrs. to get the new one to come out to this world.

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