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The Tigers are steadily improving their times as the season progresses, coach says

GRAPHIC PHOTO: GARY ALLEN - Both the boys and girls swim teams at Newberg High School are young and learning under the guidance of new coach Cari Blanchard, who also coaches the girls water polo team at the school.

While the Newberg High School swim team doesn't necessarily have the numbers to win tournaments or dual meets against some of the top teams in the state, the improvement the Tigers are showing in the pool has been evident.

First-year coach Cari Blanchard – who has been the girls water polo coach for several years as well – said times have been improving across the board for Newberg's swimmers on the boys and girls squads. The most recent meet for the Tigers was a home contest against Forest Grove on Jan. 9.

While the score for that meet is still undecided, Blanchard said, the same individual swimmers stood out: Nikki Rubottom, Ty Patterson, Stella Byles, Natalie Kisling and a handful of other athletes with plentiful experience.

"It was good," Blanchard said of the contest. "Now that we have a few meets under our belts, it ran a lot smoother. Newer kids kind of have a better idea of what a high school meet is like, and we had some good races.

"Our more experienced swimmers have been standing out all season. The younger, newer kids have been improving a lot and have been getting personal bests."

Prior to the home meet against the Vikings, a portion of the team took part in the Rumbaugh Invitational in Corvallis on Jan. 4, while the entire squad made the trek to McMinnville for the Double Distance meet on Jan. 3.

Both meets were successful for the team, Blanchard said, despite the results when it comes to team scores. At this point, the Tigers are more concerned with individual improvement and formulating a lineup to compete for spots at state.

The Rumbaugh provided a fun test for some of those athletes.

"I had a handful of athletes that didn't attend, but I had over half of the athletes swim in the finals that evening or got personal records." Blanchard said. "There were a lot of significant drops in that tournament and we're continually seeing that improvement throughout the season."

The Double Distance meet saw the team make strides as well despite both the boys and girls coming up short of team victories. The challenge of competing in longer races helps the team work on its endurance and improve its times, Blanchard said.

"It was good because they're super-varsity events that double the distance," she said. "Some kids swam things they had never swam before, so it was good experience for the coaches and players to see what they can do."

Next up for Newberg is a Pacific Conference dual meet on the road at Liberty, which starts at 3:45 p.m. Thursday. After that, the Tigers return home to face Glencoe a week later.

Blanchard said at the start of the season that she and her assistants wanted to change the culture of the program. So far, she said, it's going well.

"The culture has definitely gotten better," Blanchard said. "They've adjusted to new coaches and are understanding what our expectations are. This last week we were finally seeing that transition really happening with the team."

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