North Marion swimmers make final push toward districts
While most of the North Marion student body spent winter break mornings snug in their beds, the athletes for the Husky swim program had other ideas.
With more than three weeks between competitions, the Huskies had ample time to learn from their opening two meets of the year and hone their times over the holidays. And what better time to do so than the waning morning hours before the sun rose?
"We had practice 6:30 to 8:30 in the morning, basically every day that wasn't a holiday," North Marion head coach Kristina Ramirez said.
"A lot of people were on vacation, so we had a small group that could make it every day," she said. "But just about everyone made an appearance. As a coach who is having practice early in the morning, that's what you hope for - to just try to stay in shape over the break."
Ramirez is in the midst of her first year as head coach of the Huskies, taking over for former coach Teresa Chan this season. Ramirez entered the program three years ago, working as an assistant under Chan before taking the reins this winter.
Working at the Woodburn Aquatic Center for more than a decade, Ramirez had plenty of experience around the pool — but little at the high school level. Most of her proficiency came with younger swimmers or teaching physical education to older students at Chemeketa Community College.
"I really learned a lot under Teresa," she said. "She really showed me how to communicate with the high school kids. That was my first job really working with the high school group a lot."
The Huskies are a small group this year, nearly half the size of last year's team that had more than 40 student athletes. That gives Ramirez and assistant coach Wendy Maguire more opportunity for one-on-one coaching with the Huskies, where she has no qualms about pushing her athletes as far as they can go.
"I'm all about the hard work," Ramirez said. "From the moment we get there to the moment we leave, we really have to take advantage of our time in the water and practice hard."
The dedication is yielding results.
Following three weeks of nearly daily practice over winter break, the Huskies entered 2020 looking to make an impact at the Blanchet Invitational on Saturday, Jan. 11. The boys and girls teams finished seventh and eighth, respectively, but the focus was more on individual times than team placement.
"We had 11 personal records set that day," Ramirez said. "I was really happy with how the meet went. The kids worked really hard and it really paid off."
Ten of the 22 swimmers are seniors, many of whom have been with the program for all four years. But there is still plenty of room for individual improvement on kicks and turns, which the Ramirez focused on over the break.
"We wanted to get those little technical things down," Ramirez said. "I think we've gotten really good at those, and I'm super pleased that it paid off."
The work continue to produce dividends a week later in the team's trip to the South Albany Sprint Meet on Saturday, Jan. 18.
Senior Lucas Toth took first place in the 100-yard individual medley out of 16 athletes, shaving nearly three and a half seconds off his seeded time coming into the meet with a finish of 1:01.68. Toth added a fourth-place finish in the 50-yard butterfly in a rare tie, finishing in 28.43, the same as Stayton's Josh Ptacek.
Fellow senior Ben Netter placed second in the event in 27.23.
The girls were led individually by freshman Sofia Vachter, who took third in the 50-yard breaststroke with a time of 38.52, more than five seconds better than her seeded time coming into the meet. Senior Kailee Jones was not far behind, placing fifth in the event in 39.20.
Jones, Netter and Toth are among the group who will be celebrating Senior Night this week when the Huskies face off against the Kennedy Trojans on Thursday at the Woodburn Aquatic Center.
Following the meet, the Huskies will have just two more competitions before the District Championship races on Feb. 14-15. In addition to return trips to state for Toth and Netter, Ramirez wants to see her younger racers make it to the second day of competition and build experience as they prepare to take over for the next era of North Marion swimming.
"I think we have a shot at sending some freshmen to that second day - that's the goal, to have some of those freshmen on the second day," Ramirez said. "Not just freshmen, but the younger class. Four freshmen and lots of sophomores as well. Just try to get that younger group to the second day of districts."
North Marion Senior Night
Where: Woodburn Aquatic Center
When: Thursday, Jan. 23 at 4 p.m.
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