Story last updated at 3:25 p.m. Thursday, October 31, 2002

Floods can't dampen swimmers' spirits
by Sepp Jannotta
Staff Writer

photo: sports

  Photo by Sepp Jannotta, Homer News
Reane Rykaczewski yells out encouragement for Evan Smith during the butterfly portion of the 20 medley relay during Saturday's swimming event at the Homer High School pool. Smith, Ben Huhns, Andrew Vait and Jake Bell swam to Region III and school records, posting a time of 1:42:17.  
So your swim meet is washed out? No problem.

Just ask the Homer High School swim team.

The Mariners managed to overcome the flood of 2002 on Saturday with a number of significant times to show for the Borough Swim Championships held here without the benefit of competition from any other teams.

In the boys 200-yard medley relay, Ben Kuhns, Andrew Vait, Evan Smith and Jake Bell established school and Region III records as they posted a state-best time of 1 minute, 42.17 seconds.

If the meet's unusual circumstances led to any lack of focus or drive among the Homer swimmers, it was not apparent, as teammates lined up at either end of the pool to cheer the all-senior squad on. The result was a fitting one given that the day was billed as senior tribute day, a chance for swimmers and their parents to take a bow.

And the significance of the 200 medley relay as a chase for a record was not lost on the Mariner swimmers or the fans in the bleachers.

"That was amazing. They've been eyeing those records since they were 6 years old," said junior Katelyn Wythe as she gestured to the Mariner swimming records board above the grand stand. "And they got one."

The medley relay time bested an 11-year-old Homer record of 1:43.40, set by Shane Walker, Bjorn Larson, Justin Herring and Mike Elwin. The old region mark -- 1:43.31 -- was set by Soldotna, also in 1991.

Vait actually reeled in another school record with a time of 1:03.69 in the 100 breaststroke, breaking Walker's 1992 mark of 1:04.00.

The senior, who opened the day by singing "The Star Spangled Banner," said, if anything, the lack of competition from other teams helped him swim faster.

"I swim better this way," Vait said. "I get thrown off when I start putting myself (mentally) in other people's lanes."

Vait said the record in the 200 medley relay was particularly poignant because it marked the last time these top Mariner seniors would swim together. When Homer heads up to Soldotna for the Region III Swimming and Diving Championships on Friday, many of the boys toughest relay combinations will be split up in an attempt to jockey for state qualifying placements, according to Homer coach Bridget Kuhns.

But she said there might be a chance for the boys to team up one last time in an effort to snag Homer's first state swimming title. Kuhns said she thinks the Mariner boys, led by the strong core of seniors, has a legitimate shot at qualifying a swimmer for state in each event. That would allow Homer more latitude to stack certain relays with their strongest four swimmers.

On the girls side, Kuhns said, she expects to see another strong regions performance from junior Renae Rykaczewski, who has qualified for state in both her previous seasons. Other girls Kuhns is looking to for a big Region III push are Deannie Andree and Rhiannon and Rhonwen Jennings.

Sepp Jannotta can be reached at sjannotta@homer