By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes
Earlier this month, and for the first time in decades, McNary High School swimmers hit the water under the guidance of a new head coach.
Casey Lewin, a graduate of Sprague High School and swimming coach at Courthouse Fitness in south Salem, has been tapped to take the reins from longtime Celtic skipper Kim Phillips.
While Phillips won’t be around for practices and all the dual meets, she’s still an active part of the local high school swimming community, something Lewin is grateful for in more ways than one.
“Kim is an assistant coach with Mid-Valley Aquatics (a Salem-Albany club swimming organization) now, and we just had a big meeting with their representatives and the high school coaches. As a result, I think we’re going to be seeing a lot of the local talent sticking with the high school programs instead of disappearing into the ranks of club swimming,” Lewin said.
Lewin dealt with similar attrition in the Courthouse programs until he started a USA Club swim team earlier this year. He also saw it happen as an assistant coach at North Salem High School.
In addition to a new coach, the Celtic swimmers will also have to worry less about funding as the sport has been added back into the Salem-Keizer School District budgets. It comes as the league is expanding to include three additional teams, McMinnville, Forest Grove and West Albany High Schools.
“McMinnville is strong and they’ll probably have 70 or 80 kids in the pool. The boys were at state last year and took third overall,” Lewin said. “A team like that is going to push everyone else and its going to make the whole conference faster.”
McNary is slated to travel to meet all three of the new opponents, but Lewin hopes it will cut down on excuses when the team is called to other pools than Salem’s Kroc Center.
“It actually works out really well for us because we face McMinnville in the last dual meet and then we’ll go back there a week and a half later for the district meet,” Lewin said.
The Celtics will travel to meet their first opponents, Forest Grove Thursday, Dec. 4, at the Forest Grove Aquatic Center.
Lewin said the team drew about 50 students in its first week of regular practices, which is on par with last year’s turnout.
“We only have about a half dozen seniors, but a large group of freshmen and that’s good for the future of the program,” he said. “There’s also a good balance of talent in different races, but we could always use more distance sprinters.”
During his high school swimming days, Lewin was a district champ in the 1,500 freestyle. Lewin said his approach is more focused on long-term goals than short-term outcomes.
“I do want us to win dual meets, but I also know those meets are when we can be taking chances and making technique changes that will benefit us when the district meet comes around,” he said. “The process we take to get to that meet is important and we’re not going to get freaked out when someone has a bad day. We’ll focus on our plan.”