Story last updated at 1:17 p.m. Thursday, November 14, 2002

Swim team scores at state
by Sepp Jannotta
Staff Writer

In pro football you have your Super Bowl Sunday. In college hoops it's March Madness. Soccer has the World Cup.

For Alaska swimmers there is no event that can quite compare to that November splashdown known as the State High School Swimming and Diving Championships.

The Homer High School swim team put an unprecedented 14 swimmers into the big pool at Bartlett High last weekend. The Mariner boys swam to a fourth-place finish against an exceptionally tough field, while the Homer girls finished ninth.

"It was a very fast state," Homer coach Bridget Kuhns said. "Every race was like whoa, whoa, whoa."

Homer's performances in the 200- and 400-yard freestyle offer prime examples of just how fast.

The Mariners came into both events with the second highest seed time in the state, and in both events they bested those times, posting a pair of school records. Still, they finished well down the placement sheet, taking fourth in the 200 at 1 minute, 30.44 seconds, and fifth in the 400 (3:19.52).

The overall competition was so close that Soldotna swimmers in two events found themselves looking up at times that were first-place ties.

After the final event, Soldotna and Juneau Douglas had failed to decide a winner, finishing in a first-place tie with 77 points. Service took third at 69, just five points ahead of the Mariners.

At one point in the meet the Homer boys were tied for second place. But, despite the fact that they were scoring placement points in nearly every event, the Mariners couldn't hold that position.

Kuhns said the team was more focused than it had ever been, and in the end they were happy with a strong finish to their season.

"We've never been there before," she said of the Mariners fourth-place finish. "Because they were (in contention), they had a whole different demeanor on the deck."

The Mariners were contending because for the first time in recent memory, Homer had a swimmer in every single event final. In the end, that led to some outstanding individual results.

In a gutsy effort, Ben Kuhns posted the Mariner boys' best individual finish, swimming to a second-place finish in the 100 backstroke. The race fell between the 200 freestyle and 400 free relays, which he also swam. He had just a few minutes between his third leg of the 200 free relay and the start of the 100 backstroke.

"I thought they were going to have a break after the 200 relay," said Kuhns, who finished with a time of 56.55 seconds. "I was still panting when I got behind my block."

Kuhns said he took a quick drink off the nearest water bottle to slake his cotton mouth and then stepped up.

Homer junior Renae Rykaczewski also swam to a second-place finish, putting up a time of 1:00.25 in the 100 butterfly and adding in a third in the 100 backstroke (1:01.52).

"It's a lot different swimming at state," Rykaczewski said. "Your whole focus kind of shifts. Instead of swimming for times, you're focused more on places and medaling."

In the boys 100 butterfly, senior Evan Smith came in third place (54:23), just ahead of his brother, Jamey Smith (54.93).

Andrew Vait ended his high school swimming career with a memorable race in the 100 breaststroke.

Vait said as he prepared for the race that he looked at the swimmers in the neighboring lanes -- all-American contenders Paul Hughes of Juneau-Douglas and Gilbert Raposa of Dimond -- and told himself to just stay in their wake. When it was all over, Vait had taken a very gratifying third, putting up a time of 1:02.09.

"It was amazing to be on the podium," he said. "It was a great way to end the season."

Sepp Jannotta can be reached at sjannotta@homer