Sanctioned practices were allowed to begin on Monday for boys swimming teams across the state. This means the first meets, and even the eventual state meet, drift nearer.
Last year’s state meet — and season in general — provided plenty of intrigue. Kelly Walsh peaked at the conference meet and carried momentum into state but couldn’t capture Class 4A gold. Instead, the Trojans finished third and watched Laramie and Thunder Basin go point-for-point in the title hunt. The host Plainsmen eventually found the winning edge, beating the first-year Bolts 226-224. Lander solidified what has become an inevitability, winning its 24th consecutive Class 3A state championship and 25th all-time.
All of Lander’s individual winners from last year’s state meet return for another season. The Tigers also won all three relay races, which involved a majority of underclassmen. Not only are the Tigers favored to continue their dominance but this season could be by historic margins.
And while the Tigers appear primed to add yet another state championship to its trophy case, the Class 4A race remains still very much up for grabs. Both Laramie and Thunder Basin graduated the majority of scorers from last year but both also return one key swimmer from last season. Junior Max DeYoung returns for Laramie while the Bolts will have senior Gunnar Poley. Kelly Walsh also graduated a lot of its top scorers but returns junior Kellan Chadderdon.
Six of the nine individual races at last year’s 4A state meet were won by seniors. In the 12 total slots for the winning relay teams, eight of those were occupied by seniors. That opens the door for an interesting 2019 season.
So here’s a quick look at some who could make a splash in the new year:
The aforementioned three are the most notable returners. DeYoung won both the 200 IM and the 100 backstroke at last year’s state meet while Chadderdon won gold in the 100 butterfly. Poley didn’t earn gold at last year’s meet but took silver in the 200 freestyle and 100 backstroke.
With both DeYoung and Poley returning in the 100 backstroke, that event stands as the outright most competitive before the season begins. Thunder Basin senior JR Albers, who finished fourth in that event last year, also returns. DeYoung should also get competition in the 200 IM this year as Green River senior Michael Richmond returns after his silver finish. Chadderdon will be tested in his 100 butterfly defense, most notably by Green River’s James King, who took second as a freshman last season.
That leaves the other events, which were won by seniors last year. Poley stands as the favorite in the 200 freestyle with Laramie senior Connor Fontana returning off a fourth-place finish. The young King stands as the top returner in the 50 freestyle. The only other returner from the 4A field at last year’s meet is Kelly Walsh junior Ian Pfaff.
A senior tandem of Dean Lyon (Green River) and Grant Schoene (Cheyenne East) return as standouts in the 500 freestyle. A pair of young Camels, junior Corte Christensen and sophomore Caden Morton, stand as the top two contenders in the 100 breaststroke.
It’s up for grabs in the 1-meter diving, with no clear favorite going into 2019. Laramie senior Chris Bury, Thunder Basin seniors Braden Deaton and Daniel McCoy, Laramie junior Trenton Hamel and East junior Julian Yates all could make a splash.
As for the relays, Green River returns three of its four swimmers from the second-place 200 medley team. Thunder Basin and Sheridan stand just behind with Laramie always a threat. The 200 freestyle relay was a free-for-all between Laramie, Thunder Basin and Kelly Walsh last year, and with all three graduating at least two members of those teams, this year could be more of the same. Laramie and Thunder Basin lose half their squads in the 400 freestyle relay but also finished more than 7 seconds ahead of the competition, meaning it will take a big year for Green River’s youth to break through.
A core group returns to make Lander the prohibitive favorite in 2019. Junior Ryan Brinda, junior Nick Kulow, junior Preston Plaisted and senior Caleb Huelskamp are among the top returning winners for the Tigers.
Brinda won the 200 freestyle in addition to his opening leg on the winning 200 and 400 freestyle relay teams. Kulow convincingly won the 500 freestyle while also swimming the anchor leg of the 200 medley and 400 freestyle relay teams. Huelskamp won the 50 individual freestyle and swam on the 200 medley and 200 freestyle relay teams. Plaisted did not win individual gold but did swim on the 200 freestyle relay team.
That sets the stage for the challengers. Worland junior Zayne Cooper narrowly missed Brinda in the 200 freestyle and should contend again. Powell junior Richard Spann (200 IM), Lyman senior Carson Walker (200 IM), Lyman sophomore Hansen Bradshaw (50 freestyle), Kemmerer senior Alvaro de Vicente (500 freestyle) and Riverton senior Nate Shroyer (100 breaststroke) can challenge Lander’s individual standing.
Walker and Lander senior Erik Blunck are the top contenders for the wide-open 100 butterfly. Cooper will be challenged to repeat in the 100 freestyle by Brinda and Kemmerer junior Benjamin Wergin. Powell’s Spann stands as the favorite in the 100 backstroke.
Plaisted could pull off the rare swim and diving win, as he enters 2019 with the best returning diving score. He’ll be challenged by a swarm of juniors in Powell’s Bryce Hogen, Buffalo’s Seth Felbeck, Cody’s Porter Laing and Riverton’s Trystan Gorley.
Lander should stand as the favorite to repeat all three relays but Lyman and Powell have outside shots to challenge.