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Decatur looks like the team to beat
By CASEY OLSON
The Decatur Gators boys swim team has a new coach, but the same old expectations. The Decatur program has developed into one of the elite swimming factories in the state over the last few years. The Gators won the 2003 state championship, finished third last season and were fourth in 2002.
And this Decatur squad might be the best of the bunch.
New coach Rick Dennison takes over the program after the late resignation of Ted Rychlik, who was scheduled to replace last years coach, Heather Kreier. Dennison, the longtime girls golf head man at Decatur, has never coached high school swimming before this season.
They wanted somebody in the building, said Dennison. And I had worked with a lot of these kids. Ive kind of been around swimming, so Im not a total neophite. Its pretty easy to come up with a workout for these kids.
I just tell them to go out and paddle faster than the other guy.
Decatur shouldnt have much trouble doing that. The Gators return basically everybody from last years squad, which rolled to third place at the Class 4A State Swimming and Diving Championships. Decatur finished behind state champion Jefferson and Inglemoor.
Leading the list of returners is Eric Johnson. The senior, who has already committed to swim at the University of Wisconsin next year, finished second in the 100-yard breaststroke and the 200 individual medley at state last year.
The Gators also bring back state veterans Erich Matulic, Seamus Alger, breaststoker Stephen Sullivan and freestyler John Neal.
Matulic, a senior, had a second- and a third-place finish at state, and Alger made the final heat in a pair of events.
Alger, a junior, has a goal of swimming state-qualifying times in all nine individual events this year a feat that has been named The Ironman.
They are all gung ho and ready to go, Dennison said. They want to be part of something special.
The Gators should also get some points from newcomers like freshmen Tommy Cunningham, Robert Sobus and Chris Ngy.
Decaturs competition in the South Puget Sound League South Division should come from the Curtis Vikings.
Curtis handed the Gators their only loss during the dual meet season last year and claimed the SPSL South title. Decatur and Curtis will swim against the Vikings Jan. 6 in University Place.
The defending Class 4A champion Raiders and coach Wendy Neely lost plenty of talent from last years improbable run. But the state title seems to have helped participation at TJ. The Raiders currently have close to 30 boys turning out, well above last season.
But the quality isnt up to par with the state championship team yet.
At state, the Raiders had four swimmers account for all their points Matt Diotte, Andrew Jung, Danny Smith and David Bai. Diotte and Jung graduated in the spring and Smith isnt turning out this season, leaving Bai as the lone returner. Diotte is currently swimming at the University of Denver.
The Raiders probably wont win a lot of SPSL South regular season meets this year, but that didnt stop them from rolling to the state title a season ago. Jefferson finished last year 3-4 in the South.
The Raiders were beaten in their SPSL South opener Tuesday by Decatur, 118-68. Bai was the star for TJ, swimming state-qualifying times in the 100 and 200 freestyles. The two races were the Raiders only wins during the meet.
Other strong swimmers include breaststroker Paul Tomko, freestyler Nolan Waterfall, butterflyer Victor Nygen and all-arounder Jay Barfield.
The swimming pool is a little more crowded at Todd Beamer High School. First-year coach Maile Carr has 19 boys turning out, which is 13 more than last season.
This will be a huge year for growth and learning for this team, Carr said. They have already shown tremendous improvement from the first week of practice.
The Titans finished last season with an 0-7 record and Carr will be counting on returners T.J. Young and Sei Jing Beag, along with newcomers Jon Wanot, Kyle Christensen and Brian Shaw to score points.
But one name that isnt on the roster is junior Jon Hiett, who was Beamers first state qualifier in any sport last winter. Hiett, who placed seventh in the 100 free and ninth in the 100 breaststroke at state, is focusing on club swimming.
This team really understands what it means to be a team, Carr said. They work hard, support each other and have a great time at practice.
Things are looking up for the Federal Way boys swimmers. The Eagles already have matched their win total from last year with a victory over Emerald Ridge in their SPSL South opener Tuesday. Federal Way finished 1-6 a season ago.
The team is full of young men with great leadership ability, said second-year coach Carla Boone. We are a solid team.
The Eagles feature a solid senior class, led by Derek Van de Wege, Chris McColgan, Kyle Skinner and Brian Crick. Other solid returners include juniors Duncan Cawker and Scott Nedved and sophomores Andrew Woods and Andy Racus.
Freshman Cameron Moak leads a strong group of newcomers that also includes junior Brett Stoll and freshman Chris Olson. Moak won a pair of events in the Eagles opener Tuesday.
These athletes are really quite remarkable when they start thinking they can do things, Boone said. When they start to believe in their ability, thats the first step to our success.
Sports editor Casey Olson: 925-5565, email@example.com