Celtic swimmers practice their freestyle stroke at the Kroc Center in Salem Monday, Nov. 30. (KEIZERTIMES/Eric A. Howald)

Celtic swimmers practice their freestyle stroke at the Kroc Center in Salem Monday, Nov. 30. (KEIZERTIMES/Eric A. Howald)

By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes

A new, larger Greater Valley Conference shook up the high school swimming scene last year.

For evidence, look no further than McNary High School senior Anjelica Glassey.

“It’s different with all the new teams. I went from getting fourth in backstroke at district in my sophomore year to finishing 11th as a junior,” Glassey said, one of the Celts’ backstroke specialists.

As the Celtics prepare to dive in for another season, they’ll have to contend again with a larger pool of talent. Fortunately, McNary will also be fielding a slightly larger roster than last season.

“Turnout has been good this year. We have more than 50 this year, up from 45 last year. We have a pretty young squad and pretty evenly split between guys and girls,” said Casey Lewin, McNary head coach. “They’re also super-motivated. They’re excited about practice every day and they work hard.”

On the girls team, McNary’s returns sophomore Marissa Kuch who placed fifth in the 100 freestyle at the state competition last season. She was McNary’s top finisher in the sport, but two relay teams that included Kuch and returner Sara Eckert also made it to the state races.

“I’m really excited to see how our relays come together. We’ve got a few more club swimmers than we’ve had in the past, and I think the relay teams will be a lot more mixed than they have in the past,” said Glassey.

She was also hopeful for an influx of strong breaststrokers this winter.

“Our distance swimmers are also really playing to their strengths in practices. We have a couple of freshman who have been working on it from day one,” Glassey said.

Fellow senior Kiana Briones also had high hopes for the team.

“We’ve been working really hard and I think we’ll have a strong girls team,” said  Briones. “We have a lot of newcomers and they’re all really good.”

Briones said she’ll be focusing on her breaststroke again this season and hopes to shave about four seconds off her personal best time of 1:16 in the 100-yard event.

She said the team’s focus on technique in the early going would have the biggest payoff come February.

“In freestyle and the sprints it’s the small things like stroke and turns. In the distance races it’s more knowing where to slow it down and where to speed it up, the pacing aspects,” Briones said.

Lewin had high hopes for several of the incoming freshmen girls, but was waiting to see how they performed in the teams’ first meet Thursday, Dec. 3.

On the boys team, Lewin was excited for the prospects of Evan Alger, Isaiah Holt, Grant Briones and Jake Wyer.

“Jake swam a lot for us last season, but I think he could have a big, breakout year,” Lewin said.

Holt said he was grateful for a bigger group of swimmer this time around.

“It’s fun to have so many new people and get to know them,” Holt said.

Alger said the team’s promise was already showing despite only a week of practice.

“We have a lot more energy than we did last year and we’re doing faster times and longer distances earlier than we were last season,” Alger said. “As seniors, it’s our job to get the McNary spirit into them and teach them that swimming is a fun sport.”

Holt was hopeful for a more productive senior year after being sidelined by bronchitis last season.

“I’m just trying to push myself as hard as I can this year. Just work hard and stay healthy so I can do well,” he said.

Alger was eyeing a top six finish in the 1,500 freestyle at the district meet.

“I dislocated my knee during the summer, but I still think it’s doable,” Alger said.

Lewin said it’s helped that he’s now in his second full year with the program.

“Last year, there was a lot of figuring each other out, but this year there is a comfort level that we didn’t have last season. Everybody is stepping right back into the groove,” he said.