Coming into this season, expectations were high for the Sandpoint swim team and thus far they have lived up to the billing.
Friday, the Bulldogs will have the chance to continue to build off that success when they compete in the 4A state championships in Boise. Overall, eight boys and 10 girls will be at state for the Bulldogs.
With individual state champion Mikayla Schoening and a handful of other strong swimmers returning, the girls team looked primed for a state title this season and currently on paper they will earn one.
But a title isn’t won on paper, it’s won in the pool and Sandpoint swim head coach Greg Jackson wants to make sure his team understands that message.
“The girls need to focus on themselves and do what they’re capable of,” he said. “They don’t have to do any miracles to win that state title, they just have to come do what they do every morning and perform.”
Schoening realizes that a state title is within the Bulldogs reach after finishing third last year and said it could have a major impact on the program.
“I think it would unify the team more as a whole because in the past few years our team has been together but also broken,” she said, “and I think if we were to gain a state title that would bring us that much closer.”
The Bulldogs already had a taste of the competition they will encounter at state when they traveled roughly eight hours to battle the girls defending state champion Idaho Falls and some of the other top 4A teams in the Bonneville High School Invitational on Oct. 19.
Sandpoint blew away the competition, finishing 56 points in front of runner up Skyline and 71 points in front of third place Idaho Falls.
Jackson said he is glad the girls got a feel for how they will stack up against teams from Southern Idaho at state but doesn’t want them to get overconfident.
“I think the Idaho Falls meet was a good meet and the results could potentially be dangerous,” he said. “We really expected to go there and have a lot of competition and we ended up being pretty dominant throughout so its keeping in check that there are two other districts that we haven’t seen yet.”
Luckily, the girls team has developed the ability to drown out the noise and take each meet one at a time so Jackson isn’t worried about it.
Schoening is hoping to defend her state title in the 100 free and pick another in the 50 free after finishing second in the event last year.
It’s hard to picture Schoening doing any better at state, but she said she has put the work in and out of the pool to make that possible this weekend.
Junior Kate Bokowy said the Bulldogs have an opportunity to win the 200 medley and 400 free relays and defend their state title in the 200 free relay. Personally, Bokowy is looking to shed some time off her marks in the 100 fly and 200 IM and contend for the top spots in both events.
In order to do that, Bokowy is really focusing on her technique to get a few seconds faster.
“When you’re in the race, a lot of times you’re adrenaline is going so much that you forget everything so right now its cementing what I already know,” she said.
The boys also have a strong team that has a chance to finish in the top three at state after claiming fourth last year.
There are only eight swimmers on the boys team, but they are able to hold their own against schools that able to put together teams that twice as big as the Bulldogs.
Junior Jake Aitken said the Bulldogs ability to battle with some of the top teams in the state despite being outnumbered, says a lot about the character of the boys on the team.
“It shows that all the boys are putting in their best effort and trying to compete and were actually winning,” he said.
Aitken will race in the 50 and 100 free and is apart of the Bulldogs 200 medley and 200 free relays at state. Aitken said he is looking to make it to the finals of his individual events after not being able to make it past prelims last year.
Junior and boys team captain Hayden Norling will be gunning for a top two finish in the 200 and 500 free while also contributing to the 200 medley and 200 free relay teams.
After taking second to Moscow at districts, Hayden said the boys are eager to make some noise at state.
“I think we’re going to be a lot more rested up for state then districts and I think we’re going to be able to perform a lot better,” he said.
Hayden will have the unique opportunity to compete alongside his younger brother, Caleb Norling, at state.
Hayden said Caleb has left his mark on the team in his freshman year and helped fill voids on the team that have been crucial to the Bulldogs’ success.
“Its nice to beat him and show up my little brother but at the same time if he goes faster I realize that’s good for the team,” he said. “I just like when everybody goes faster.”
Competing at state can be nerve racking given the stakes and the number of athletes participating, but the Bulldogs are well prepared to deal with the pressure.
“There is kind of a different feeling and you have to prepare in a different way and look at it,” Schoening said. “I was tell myself this is my pool, I’m not going to let anyone beat me in my pool so that’s kind of my mantra leading into state. I’ve beat them before and I can do it again.”
“I mean after swimming for six, seven years its not as bad,” Hayden said, “but state is one of those meets where there is added pressure but you just got to chill out and realize its just another meet and you want to give it your best.”
Regardless of what happens at state, Jackson is proud of what his team has accomplished.
“We increased the intensity over last year and really not intentionally, it’s just that they really responded well to the work,” he said, “and so they’ve worked quite a bit harder than last year and its really shown.”
The state prelims are set to start 10 a.m. Friday at the Boise YMCA and the finals will begin at the same time Saturday.
GIRLS STATE ROSTER
Emily Ballard — 100 free, 200 IM, 200 free relay, 400 free relay
Laila Black — 100 free, 100 back, 200 medley relay, 200 free relay
Kate Bokowy — 100 fly, 200 IM, 200 medley relay, 400 free relay
Maren Davidson — 200 medley relay, 200 free relay, 400 free relay
McKinley Jensen — 200 medley relay, 200 free relay, 400 free relay, 500 free
Autumn Morgan — 100 breast, 100 fly, 200 medley relay, 400 free relay
Ayiana Prevost — 200 free, 200 free relay, 200 medley relay, 400 free relay, 500 free
Mikayla Schoening — 50 free, 100 free, 200 free relay, 400 free relay
Sabrina Wilson — 100 breast, 200 medley relay, 200 free relay, 400 free relay
Kaya Wright — 50 free, 100 back, 200 medley relay, 200 free relay
BOYS STATE ROSTER
Jake Aitken — 50 free, 100 free, 200 medley relay, 200 free relay
Jack Grzincic — 100 fly, 100 back, 200 medley relay, 200 free relay
Hayden Leavitt — 200 free, 200 free relay, 200 medley relay, 500 free
Aidan Nielsen — 50 free, 100 fly, 200 medley relay, 200 free relay
Caleb Norling — 100 free, 200 IM, 200 medley relay, 200 free relay
Hayden Norling — 200 free, 500 free, 200 medley relay, 200 free relay
Jacob Slocum — 200 medley relay, 200 free relay
Campbell Wyman — 200 medley relay, 200 free relay