Energy boost

Close win in 200 freestyle relay propels Griffins to 5th straight Western Slope titleNew Cal 2 column format

District 51’s Tom Houska looks for the water as he does a tuck dive Saturday at the Western Slope Championships at El Pomar Natatorium. Houska finished fifth as the Griffins won the meet with 413 points.

Jessica Haley jumped and yelled and slipped into the water Saturday, her left leg immersed in the open first lane. But the District 51 Griffins boys swimming coach got to her feet, her eyes never leaving Griffins’ anchor Austin Acree.

In the final portion of the 200-yard freestyle relay of the Western Slope Championships, the Griffins’ Acree “plowed in” as his coaches taught him and stretched for the wall.

The Griffins defeated Montrose by .01 seconds.

At El Pomar Natatorium, District 51 won its fifth consecutive Western Slope title, defeating second-place Montrose by 25 points.

And they created everything dramatic in the 200 medley relay, including the third leg by Carlos Matthews, who caught up to Montrose just minutes after placing fourth in the 500 freestyle, which came maybe 10 minutes after he won the 100 butterfly.

The dramatics of the relay escalated until the winning coach nearly fell into the pool.

“I was way into that race,” said a laughing Haley.

Haley, in her first season as the Griffins’ head coach, replaced Dale Leonhart, who had coached the Griffins (and previously Grand Junction High School) for 20 years.

This season Leonhart became an assistant at Montrose, which won the first five events, including Michael Barnosky swimming a leg on the Indians’ first-place 200 medley relay and winning the 200 individual medley.

“This is obviously a tough one,” Leonhart said. “I’ve gone years and years and miles and miles with those guys. I’ve gone 12 weeks with these guys. I’m conflicted, but that’s the way it is.”

Acree, who also won the 100 freestyle and 100 backstroke in the 25-yard pool, said he used the coaching switch as motivation.

“I was more disappointed and wanting to show him we’re the best team on the Western Slope,” Acree said.

Leonhart said he did not become a Montrose coach because of swimmers.

“It wasn’t about the kids at all,” Leonhart said.

But he added he was proud of the Griffins.

“Oh, yeah,” Leonhart said. “That’s five in a row for them. Cinco de Mayo.”

Silas Almgren, who has been coaching the Indians for 21 years, said there are momentum swings in swimming. Especially ones after a .01-second win.

“Sure there is,” Almgren said. “It wasn’t the sole reason, but it made a big difference. I definitely didn’t see anyone on our team backing off.”

And now, after taking over as the Griffins’ coach, Haley’s pressure to continue the title streak has been shattered.

“There was a lot of pressure,” Haley said. “Dale Leonhart is a coaching legend. I knew I had to prove myself to the team.”

Afterward, the team leapt in the pool to celebrate. And this time, for Haley, the dip was intentional.

Dripping with water, she tried to assess the Griffins’ final events.

“Pretty much after diving,” she said, “I was speechless.”


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