Young Griffins get a chance to gain state experience this weekend

Nick Neste of the District 51 Griffins roots for a teammate at a dual swim meet with Montrose at the Orchard Mesa Community Center Indoor Pool Saturday morning.

It was success on the Western Slope that got District 51 swim coach Dale Leonhart to shave his lengthy beard.

For success at the state meet, this weekend’s 5A state tournament at Edora Pool and Ice Center in Fort Collins, Leonhart would gladly shave his head.

“I always tell them that if they win the conference meet, they can shave my beard,” Leonhart said. “We go top 10 at state, they can shave my head. It’s just part of the deal.”

District 51 is sending eight swimmers to the state meet that begins today with prelims and run through Saturday. Of the eight, only Sam Leonhart and Tyler Walton will be swimming individual events. Sam Leonhart will swim the 100-yard backstroke and Walton will swim the 200 individual medley and the 100 freestyle.

The two swimmers are also the only Griffins with state experience.

“Sam and Tyler have been there before, but the rest of them are new,” Dale Leonhart said. “So it hasn’t even sunk in yet. For Sam, it’s his fourth trip and Tyler his second, but those other guys don’t have a clue.”

Kimani Robinson, Nick Neste, Ian Smith and Taylor Fisher will make up the other spots on the Griffins’ three relay teams that qualified for state. Tanner Chapin and Brett Scott will both be alternates.

Neste is a freshman at Fruita’s 8/9 school and is swimming on all three relays. He swims the freestyle on the 200 medley relay and is the anchor in both the 400 freestyle relay and the 200 freestyle relay.

For Neste, the state tournament is about competing, but he’s also looking to take in as much knowledge as he can from the event.

“The main purpose for me is for it to be a learning experience,” Neste said. “I want to see what
it’s going to be like for the years to come.”

Neste said his strength is the freestyle and he’s on every relay with the more experienced swimmers in Walton and Sam Leonhart. Neste said the two have helped him progress as a swimmer.

“Tyler and Sam have been supportive throughout the whole season,” Neste said. “They’ve told me it’s going to be tough, but they said it’ll be fun and a good experience.”

Walton and Sam Leonhart are the only two seniors of the state group and with the group of young swimmers going, Leonhart expects them to learn a lot.

“The competition is a steep curve,” Dale Leonhart said. “But it’s a great thing because it motivates them to come back and work harder, because they understand what it’s going to take to get it done next year.”


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