Swimming toward a goal: Valley swim teams all have different ways to measure success
The Grand Junction High School girls swim team is aiming high this year — specifically, the top three of the Southwestern League.
“I like a good stiff challenge, so it will be fun,” coach Dale Leonhart said.
“It will give all of us something to shoot at and keep us focused when it gets tough. It will be good.”
Placing in the top three is a task that will push the Tigers. At the Montrose Invitational last weekend, the Tigers saw some of their competition, including Durango and Montrose, which finished with 666 and 392.5 points compared to the Tigers’ 86.
“Those two teams are head and shoulders above the rest of us, so if we can hit that third slot, I’ll be very pleased,” Leonhart said.
The Tigers are led by Noelle Depuey, who is a senior co-captain along with Mary Steele.
Depuey has upped her focus after missing state in the 100-yard backstroke by four seconds last year and is hoping to hit the 1:04.5 qualifying time.
The Tigers have seen early season success from freshman Steph Wahlers, who returned to the pool this season after taking two years off. In Montrose, she finished ninth in the 50 butterfly, which was ahead of several teammates.
“It’s a loaded word, but she has potential,” Leonhart said. “She has some gifts that not all of us have, and if she exercises them, she’ll be just fine.”
The Wildcats know what their goals are. In fact, they are faced with them every day.
At the beginning of the season, coach Jessica Haley had each member of the team write down personal or team goals on a sheet of paper. Now the goals hang on the southern wall of Fruita Monument’s aquatic facility, and with every lap the swimmers take during practice, they are reminded of their aspirations for the season.
For Leah Temple, that goal is to break the 26-second mark in the 50-yard freestyle, which is the state qualifying time in the event.
“I have to take a second off, and that’s a lot,” Temple said. “It’s hard once you get to a certain time to drop even lower.”
Temple, a junior, could be joined at the state level by senior Sarah Fischer, who is working on cutting 10 seconds to make the 500 freestyle qualifying time of 5:35, although her long-term goal is to hit 5:30.
With the season having just begun, Haley isn’t concerned about swimmers hitting their stride right now.
“I’m not expecting any big, best times or any record shattering times right now because we’re getting into the hard stages,” Haley said. “We’re seeing little improvements each week.”
Being a senior on a team usually implies that you have a certain amount of experience and expertise in your sport.
But for Kalli River-Mann, the only senior on the combined Palisade/Central swim team, that isn’t the case.
“I’m learning along with (the new swimmers) because it’s my first year, too,” River-Mann said.
River-Mann is one of eight new swimmers on the Wardogs team, which has 11 swimmers. Although the majority of the team is inexperienced, coach Steve Weir expects success by the end of the season.
“We have a lot of potential of this team and I think by the end of the year we will compete hopefully for the top eight (in league),” Weir said.
The newer girls on the team have already started to contribute, including Courtney Wear, a sophomore, who took second place in the 100 backstroke against Glenwood Springs last weekend.
Returning swimmers are Kirsten Bishop, who took third in the 200 freestyle and second in the 100 butterfly on Saturday, Sarah Kem and Achelle Gallagher.
“Our goal is to improve and to improve daily,” Weir said. “If everybody improves, the team improves.”