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Lion boys and girls swimming teams are succeeding at mixing up different events

PMG FILE PHOTO - Lion Molly Wheeldon hit her best time of a 28.34 in her 50 freestyle against Hillsboro on Jan. 14. Swimming, St. Helens head coach Chelsie Orr says, is a sport that is not only measured in tenths and hundredths of a second but also in centimeters and millimeters of a body or head position.

Minute specifics, ones that can be neglected as the season really gets going and gluts of dual meets and invitationals transpire, make all the difference, especially in the meets that mean most. How many times have you seen a district championship come down to a flip turn or a wall touch? The OSAA state meets are known for photo finishes with championships ultimately decided by those who did the dirty work and pinpointed the often passed over facets of the sport earlier in the season.

It's a focus Orr is imparting, repeating and fine-tuning with both her boys' and girls' teams as training heightens. Orr said St. Helens has about three good weeks of building strength before they start to taper for the Northwest Oregon Conference district meet. Between now and then the Lions take on Gladstone and Hood River Valley in a dual meet next week with a head-to-head Northwest Oregon Conference dual against Hillsboro the following week.

PMG FILE PHOTO - Ryan Maher and his twin brother, Jake (not pictured) continue to swim well while competing for St. Helens as well as the Heat Club Team. Coach Orr said the twins juggle it all really well and their times are staying steady. "My performance goal is for the individual swimmers to keep dropping their times and improving," Orr said. "Hood River Valley had a good showing at state last year so it should be a highly competitive meet. Good competition gives our team some great opportunities to improve."

In the last month, Orr said some of the biggest strides the coaching staff has seen is in technique and endurance. Even the most seasoned of St. Helens' swimmers have had their strokes broken down, examined and refined.

"We believe small changes can result in large improvements," Orr said.

Orr said most of the Lion swimmers have been willing and able to step outside their comfort zones and take on some of the longer yardage events. In a meet against The Dalles last Thursday, Orr and company aimed at having their teams swim events they don't usually swim. For some, Orr said, this meant confronting the 500 freestyle for the first time. For a brand-new swimmer, who has been in the water for seven weeks, getting put in a race that is 20 lengths of the pool can be unnerving. However, one of the program's main philosophies is creating well-rounded swimmers, ones that are multidimensional and capable of dipping into any event asked of them. The change-ups keep their competitive juices fresh while creating different race perspectives and plans. The sprinting sphere is still a work in progress for the Lions. But Orr feels St. Helens will be better off in the long run if it can build an adaptable talent base.

"That message has been well received by our teams and that has greatly pleased me," Orr said. "One thing that needs to keep improving is our freestyle sprinting. In high school swimming, four out of 11 events on each the girls' side and the boys' side include either the 50 or 100 freestyle. That needs to be one of our strengths and we aren't there yet- but we're working on it."

Jake and Ryan Maher continue to swim well while competing both for St. Helens as well as the Heat Club Team. Orr said the twins "juggle it all really well" and their times are staying steady. Both swimmers make sure to text their high school head coach after every club meet with regular updates.

Maggie and Molly Wheeldon continue to stay consistent and reliable for the girls. Molly Wheeldon had a great meet against Hillsboro on Jan. 14, hitting a best time of a 28.34 in her 50 freestyle.

"As a sophomore, that gives her a very promising future," Orr said.

For the girls, freshman Kathryn Nelson and sophomore Katie Pletsch have been working really hard and it's showing, according to Orr. In relays they are splitting times in their 50 freestyle that St. Helens' seniors weren't even consistently splitting last year, Orr said. Matt and Isaac Reed (who moved over from Scappoose) are super valuable and hard working.

"Matt is one I can put in any freestyle, breaststroke, or butterfly," Orr said. "Isaac's strengths are freestyle and butterfly. He has earned himself a spot on the relay with the Mahers and Nick Brooks. He is a good fit for that."

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