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The Lions are led by the Wheeldon sisters and the Maher twins in the NWOC district

FILE PHOTO - St. Helens star Jake Maher and the Lions hope to contend for a top-three spot in the NWOC district. The growth that St. Helens swimming head coach Chelsie Orr seeks for her program will come.

The culture the fourth-year skipper has constructed during her tenure, built around boosting morale, sportsmanship, effort and improvement, is conducive to kids coming out for the sport. It's an overly positive experience that can attract athletes at the younger levels or even athletic students from the St. Helens High hallways who are looking for a sport change. Orr added the Jared Plahn, who has over 14 years of club head coaching experience as well as a year of high school head coaching experience at Scappoose, to the staff over the offseason. Orr believes St. Helens has the coaching team needed to "build this program back up and make it something pretty special."

Long-term, expansion is necessary to survive in the surly Northwest Oregon Conference. With 28 kids on the roster, Orr said the Lions simply need more athletes. But the expansion is on the way. For now, the Lions are determined to squeeze every bit of potential out their teams and see where the chips fall come postseason time.

FILE PHOTO - St. Helens head coach Chelsie Orr hopes to see the Lions participation numbers grow in the near future. For the girls' squad, St. Helens is led by the Wheeldon sisters, Maggie and Molly. Maggie is a senior, one of the primary pack leaders as well as a captain. She is the Lions top 100 breaststroke swimmer as well as their top 500 freestyle swimmer.

"I can count on her to work hard 100 percent of the time in practice and consistently swim her events at her best," Orr said.

Her little sister Molly is St. Helens "wild card", the queen on the chessboard who Orr can deploy anywhere and expect positive results. Molly Wheeldon went to state as a freshman last year.

"She is the one I can put in almost any event and she will most likely win it," Orr said. "Like her sister, Molly also works incredibly hard at practice and it pays off."

The boys' team is anchored by the Maher twins (Ryan and Jake) who continue to be among the top swimmers in the league as juniors. Orr said the Mahers moved over to the Heat club team to increase their training. That decision has already paid dividends as the twins are topping last season's times with two months to go in the high school season.

"What makes Ryan great is his drive to be as fast as he can be," Orr said. "I know that if he is in an event with someone who could beat him, he won't let them. Jake is analytical. He knows all of his times and usually knows his opponents' times. He listens and makes changes as he needs to."

Orr said the two sets of siblings are cut from the same unselfish cloth. They're not diva-like or out for their own good. The four standouts want to fit in with the team and represent their school and community-at-large.

"None of them are cocky and boastful," Orr said. "They are some of the humblest kids I know-- they are the ones I am happy that the others look up to. I could say that about any one of my swimmers. They're just great kids."

Orr said she's been impressed with the overall effort put in by her team. St. Helens is comprised of least a third of swimmers who are brand new to the sport. This means they have learned all four strokes in addition to starts and turns, all while working on strength and endurance. Attendance at practice has been high. Marked improvements and amazing swims have already transpired. Orr said her teams have worked hard and risen to the new standards set by herself and the Lion coaching staff. Orr has also been pleased with the continued sportsmanship of the team.

"That is one of our top priorities and it's not something we compromise," Orr said. "I am pleased with the fact that this is now coming naturally for our team and we rarely have to give reminders. At the meet on (Dec. 13), there was a swimmer in the water from another team in a lane right in front of where some of our team was standing. This swimmer was really struggling to finish the race. I look over and several of our kids are cheering this swimmer on. This pleases me as a coach even more than fast times."

Orr would love St. Helens to hit the top three at districts. She said that will be pretty difficult for the girls' team but is attainable for our boys. Hillsboro, LaSalle and Wilsonville are the top girls' teams in the NWOC. St. Helens was able to squeak past Wilsonville for third place at Districts last year but this year that will be a much more difficult task. For the boys, Orr said Parkrose and Scappoose are the top teams to beat.

Orr said as St. Helens increases its expectations, the squad will shrink a little but the headway should come in terms of numbers and abled bodies. St. Helens is traveling down the right path, with core value coaches who believe in the right things.

"Attendance and hard work are the keys we need to get this program to where we would like it," Orr said. "Whether this happens this year is up in the air, but we are giving it our best and our kids are responding well. They are seeing what their hard work is doing. The other key is positivity. We get together as a team at the end of every practice and stand in a circle together-- this takes a sport that is very individual and helps us remember every day that we are in this together."

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