Story last updated at 2:50 p.m. Thursday, September 12, 2002

Homer swimmers show form at Invite
by Chris Bernard
Staff Writer

photo: sports
  Photo by Chris Bernard, Homer News
The Homer High School swim team holds up the boys first-place and the girls second-place trophies from last weekend's Homer Invitational swim meet, the Mariners' first meet of the season.  
The Mariners smoked teams from across the state this weekend with first- and second-place finishes at home during the season-opening Homer Invitational Swim Meet.

Last year's Region III champion Homer boys team beat Soldotna 130-81 for the win, and the Homer girls, who took second at last year's regional meet, tied Colony for second place behind Soldotna.

"My biggest surprise was our young girls team taking second," said Mariners' Coach Bridget Kuhns. "We have a large group of freshmen girls on the team, and not knowing what was out there, not knowing what we were capable of, I was very pleased. Freshman girls ended up scoring some serious points.

"I didn't expect it," she said. "These girls have talent, but this was the first meet for a lot of them, the first meet of their high school careers. They did great."

Kuhns said her upperclassmen also performed on the girls squad, and she has high hopes for Renae Rykaczewski and Rhiannon Jennings.

"Rhiannon is a state hopeful in the 100-fly, and her best time last year was (1 minute, 9 seconds)," she said. "This weekend she swam a 1:06 in her first meet of the season. She'd be in the top six at state with that time.

"And Renae dominated the 100-back with a time that was what she was swimming at the end of the season last year," Kuhns said. "It's a starting time she can build off of."

In the 100-back, Rykaczewski, a junior, took first place in 1:03.32, beating out second-place Soldotna swimmer Eve Green (1:07.28) and Amberlee Query (1:08.18). Teammate Melissa Malcolm, also a junior, took fourth in a time of 1:10.85.

"Our relay teams were another big surprise," Kuhns said. "We want to hold some cards back, but we put them on the table with these guys and it worked -- we beat Soldotna with two freshman on our team."

Rykaczewski joined Jennings, also a junior, and freshmen Rhonwen Jennings and Deannie Andree for a win in the 200-yard medley relay, beating the Soldotna Stars 2:00.04 to 2:01.98. Mariner swimmers also took sixth and ninth.

Andree also earned a third in the 100-free with a time of 1:00.43.

Rhiannon Jennings, Andree, Katelyn Wythe and Rykaczewski finished second in the 400-meter freestyle relay, wrapping up in 4:01.99 behind Soldotna at 3:53.81. Jennings also took third in the 200-IM with a time of 2:28.76, and third in the 100-fly in 1:05.98.

On the boys side, the Homer team of seniors Ben Kuhns, Evan Smith, Andrew Vait and Jake Bell beat Soldotna in the 200 medley relay 1:45.54 to 1:46.60. A Homer team also took third.

"For the boys medley relay, we experiment throughout the season," Kuhns said. "But these guys swam great in this race."

Ben Kuhns also took first in the 100-back, edging out teammate Jamey Smith 59.74 to 1:00.87. Soldotna's Leo Grasso took third in 1:00.99, and second in the 200-free, finishing 1:56.31, right ahead of freshman teammate Kevin Wythe, who clocked a 1:56.84.

Evan Smith took second in the 200-IM, beating Vait 2:10.93 to 2:13.18, and losing to first-place Nick Sorrell of Soldotna (2:10.79) by a fraction of a second.

"Jake Bell, a senior, dominated both the 50- and 100-free," Kuhns said.

Bell and junior teammate Daryl Wythe swam to first and second finishes in the 50-free, 23.46 and 24.26, beating out the Stars' Clayton Harrison, who finished in 24.38. Bell also took first in the 100-free in 51.42, edging out Soldotna's Sorrell (51.64).

Kevin Wythe took first in the 500-free with a time of 5:10.46, beating out second-place Palmer swimmer Ben Logan (5:28.53) and third-place Aladean Marey of Soldotna (5:29.20).

A Mariners' relay team of seniors Miguel Ramos and Vait, junior Daryl Wythe and sophomore Jamey Smith took third in the 200-free, finishing in 1:39.86 behind Kodiak (1:36.71) and Soldotna (1:38.59).

Vait finished second in the 100-breast behind Soldotna's Clayton Harrison with a time of 1:07.82 to Harrison's 1:04.26. Homer teammate Travis Riley, a senior, finished fourth in 1:12.24.

Bell, Kevin Wythe, Kuhns and Evan Smith finished second in the 400-free relay in 3:27.19, behind Soldotna (3:26.39).

"We have lots of time to experiment with our relays and our individual events," Kuhns said. "I have flexibility in these boys because they're utility swimmers, they can swim all kinds of events, not just their region events, and that affords me some luxury as a coach.

"I have some very positive feelings about the season, but I'm a little superstitious," she said. "There are too many uncontrollables. If everyone stays fit, stays healthy, stays clean, we have a strong season ahead of us.

"Our team spirit is at an impressive level. A lot of it came from the underclassmen -- they knew their role to be as supportive as they could, and it was really incredible."

Kuhns said the meet ran smoothly despite a power outage in the morning, which had 230 swimmers warming up in a dark pool for nearly an hour, delaying the meet by 30 minutes.

"We were talking about moving it to Soldotna, but it worked out," she said. "It all went well."

For the girls, Colony finished third overall with 64 points, Wasilla fourth with 26 points, and Kodiak fifth with 16 points. Kenai Central, Palmer, Seward and Skyview rounded out the rest of the teams.

On the boys side, Kodiak finished third overall with 62 points, Palmer fourth with 17, and Colony fifth with 14. Skyview, Unalaska, Kenai Central, Wasilla and Seward finished out the roster for the meet.

Chris Bernard can be reached at cbernard@homernews.com

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