Western Slope Winter League Championships gives young swimmers a chance to shine

Photo by William Woody—Cale Griffiths was inspired to swim by Michael Phelps’ performance in Beijing. Saturday, the 11-year-old Griffiths showed more improvement in his events at the Western Slope Winter League Championships.

There’s a group of swimmers at the Western Slope Winter League Championships that can’t help but grin when they see their name in lights on the scoreboard.

Saturday’s swim meet at the El Pomar Natatorium had competitors ages 7 to 18 from across the Western Slope. The older swimmers have taken plenty of laps, but for 11-year-old Cale Griffiths of the Grand Junction Dolphins, getting into the pool and racing is pretty cool.

“I really enjoy swimming here,” said Griffiths, who’s been swimming for the Dolphins for one year.

Brett Scott, 18, is one of the older competitors in the meet, but said any meet is a highlight for swimmers like Griffiths.

“They’re always thrilled,” Scott said. “I’ll help the little guys and they are so excited for these meets.”

Griffiths was first inspired to swim competitively after watching Michael Phelps in the 2008 Summer Olympics. Saturday, Griffiths swam the 100-yard freestyle and 50 backstroke.

“I wasn’t as fast when I first started,” Griffiths said. “(Swimming’s) harder than I thought, but I’ve gotten better.”

Dolphins coach Dale Leonhart said it’s important for swimmers like Griffiths to swim different events.

“We swim them all (freestyle, butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke) as soon as they are ready to tackle it,” Leonhart said. “The idea is to develop skills and handle all the races. As little kids, you really don’t want them to specialize.”

The Western Slope Championships are the conclusion of a five-meet winter league that begins in September. The winter league has 20 different teams ranging from Durango to Craig.

“We started the winter league a few years ago to give us a competitive venue on this side of the mountain during the winter,” Leonhart said. “There’s a meet a month and that’s great for kids that aren’t doing a winter sport.”

Although some of the older swimmers will be advancing to various state and regional meets, for young swimmers like Griffiths, this weekend in the culmination of their season.

With five different opportunities to race over the season, Leonhart said by the time the WSL Championships roll around, the coaches and swimmers are trying to end on a high note.

A strong ending to the season can include everything from hitting a personal best time to competing in an event for the first time.

“We work for progression. Not only are we trying to develop and improve skill sets, but we are trying to develop and improve training habits,” Leonhart said. “Anything they can do to improve their level of preparation can easily cause improvement in a swim meet.”

Leonhart used 10-year old Clarissa Berry as an example. The Dolphins’ swimmer was in the second heat of the 100 freestyle, and attempted a flip turn.

“She struggled with the turn, but at least she tried it,” Leonhart said. “Last meet she did three open turns, so we like to see that improvement.”

There were 36 events Saturday, with 32 more scheduled today beginning at 8:45 a.m.

After the first day, Montrose leads the team scores with 1,150 points. The Dolphins are in third with 873.

Dolphins highlights include Taylor Kidd, 12, finishing first in the 50 free in 29.75; Nick Neste, 16, finishing first in the 200 individual medley in 2:15.40; Charlotte Svaldi, 10, finishing first in the 100 breaststroke; and Carlos Matthews, 14, finishing first in the 200 backstroke in 2:15.95.

The Grand Valley Wave has 17 points, led by Brooke Omerigic, 11, who finished second in the 100 breaststroke in 51.55.


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