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Season preview: Water polo coach Cari Blanchard takes reins of Tiger swim program as well

With a new coach and renewed identity, the Newberg boys and girls swim teams have improvement in their sights this season. The Tigers have a smaller roster than many of the state's top squads, but a handful of talented swimmers should make a for a competitive time in the pool this year, according to new coach Cari Blanchard.GRAPHIC FILE PHOTO - Coach Cari Blanchard encourages her girls water polo players to swim in the offseason as a way to compete and stay in shape.

Fresh off a state championship for her girls water polo team, Blanchard takes over the swim program after the departure of longtime coach George Sampson. Blanchard said that while it's early, she has identified who will be key swimmers on the team this year.

"Both teams are looking good," she said. "We have smaller numbers than a lot of other swim teams, but we have some strong swimmers so I think we should do okay this year.

"At this point, we're not really sure what our lineup will look like. This week we will be setting a lot of that up and obviously that can change throughout the season."

Ty Patterson and Ben Bizeau will be among the leading swimmers for the boys, while Stella Byles, Nikki Rubottom and Natalie Kisling will top the girls' lineup. Many of Newberg's other contributors are young or inexperienced, especially on the boys' side, where Blanchard expects a few freshmen to play key roles in the pool this season.

"We have some new kids that came out, we have some experienced kids, and it's really a growing year," Blanchard said. "We're building the program up and I think we're excited to start off new with each other and with the team. The culture for the water polo team is really important for me, and I hope we can establish that with swim as well."

Blanchard said she and assistant coach Erin Fincher hope to build the swim program up to the level of the water polo program, which has won countless state championships. Getting more kids out for swim will be key in that endeavor, she said, but so will cementing the culture that already exists in the polo program.

Having continuity between the two programs should help with that. Blanchard said it is valuable for water polo players to swim in the offseason between varsity and club polo, and she encourages her players to do so.

"Erin and I, along with (club coach) Jake Kinne, have been trying to bridge the gap between swim and water polo so it's all under one umbrella of Newberg aquatics," Blanchard said. "We want to encourage kids to do both or one, whichever they want, and we are heading in the right direction in terms of building that positive connection."

Newberg's first swim meet is at 4 p.m. Dec. 12 at Chehalem Aquatic Center, where the Tigers will take on rival McMinnville. After that, the Tigers will swim on McMinnville's turf starting at 3:30 p.m. Jan. 3 – the Double Distance meet that features Newberg, McMinnville, David Douglas and West Salem.

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