Forward thinking: Griffins swim team focused on defending SWL title

District 51’s Kai Hurley takes a breath during the 200-yard medley relay Saturday at the Grand Junction Relays at El Pomar Natatorium. Hurley and the Griffins finished 4th in the race.

The District 51 swim team isn’t shy when discussing the season goals.

“The first thing we all talked about at the very first practice was May 13 and 14, the (Southwestern) League championship meet,” Griffins senior Tyler Walton said. “If you can’t make it to that weekend, then don’t swim because we don’t want to rely on someone all year then not have them there.”

One of the reasons the Griffins take that weekend so seriously is because District 51 has won the past three SWL championship meets.

“We take it meet by meet and race by race but we are always looking at the treasure on May 13-14,” Walton said. “That’s what we are all focused on.”

The Griffins took their first steps toward that meet Saturday in the season opening Grand Junction Relays at El Pomar Natatorium.

“This is a good team builder, and it gives everyone a chance to race,” Griffins coach Dale Leonhart said. “There is a variety of strokes and you can swim a lot of kids where if it was a regular three relay and eight individual format, we wouldn’t have as many participating.”

The Griffins’ numbers are up to 30 swimmers and five divers, which is about 10 more participants than the team has had in recent seasons.

“I would say success attracts more people,” said Leonhart of the increase. “The fact we’ve won conference three straight times might have some bearing.”

The Griffins have a lot of inexperienced swimmers, but balance that with a group of seasoned competitors.

“We have some seniors with Tyler Walton and Cyrus Pearo, and a good core of experience with guys like Tyler Fair, Logan Young, Kimani Robinson and Eric Jacobs,” Leonhart said. “Once we get the rough edges smoothed out, we should be competitive.”

Walton is a three-time state qualifier, but is out the first two weeks with a broken pinky. Walton qualified for the state meet in every event as a sophomore, and finished 16th out of 41 swimmers in the 100 freestyle at last year’s state meet.

Walton said Saturday’s meet is a good start to the season.

“Everyone is getting to know each other,” Walton said. “We are trying to act as a team so the first meet is always a good team builder.”

Leonhart said Montrose and Durango are both strong teams, and the Indians displayed that Saturday, winning seven of the 10 events.

The Indians’ team of Eben Stucky, Clay Zentmeyer, Dustin Cooper and Kostya Callihan won the 400-yard individual medley relay in 4 minutes 24.23 seconds.

The Griffins’ best swim was in the 200-yard breaststroke relay where Robinson, Jacobs, Chris Ruchman and Josh Shettler finished second in 2:25.86.

“We could be rough for the first third to half of the season,” Leonhart said. “But we have a good attitude and everyone is working hard so I think they’ll be all right.”


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