Grizzlies aim to play spoiler

Forget about the mental aspect, the psychological paralysis that can grip an athlete under extreme pressure.

To Ashland High senior swimmer Johnny Plumlee, the Grizzlies' greatest challenge at this weekend's state swim meet will probably be physical.

"I remember (last year) I could barely get out of the pool and stand," Plumlee said of swimming for Ashland in the 2009 state meet. "You try a lot harder and you definitely leave it all in the pool."

That's the plan for the Grizzlies, who will be well represented at Mount Hood Community College in Gresham, where the top swimmers in all six classifications will gather for a two-day event that begins Friday morning and wraps up Saturday night.

Ashland will take 14 swimmers — seven boys and seven girls, counting alternates — to the state meet. Five of those — Lucas Opgenorth, Jake Gavin, Gus Simms, Kaylee Tracy and Kirsten Ericksen — will compete in nine individual events, while the rest will team up with the individual qualifiers to compete in all six relay races.

Ericksen, Tracy and Opgenorth represent Ashland's best shot at bringing home a state championship. Ericksen enters the meet with the third-best time in the girls 100-yard breaststroke (1 minute, 8.16 seconds), three seconds off the pace of top qualifier Jordan Iverson of Crescent Valley, and fourth-best time in the 200 individual medley (2:17.18).

Tracy is rated No. 4 in the girls 50 freestyle (25.93) and No. 5 in the 100 freestyle, and Opgenorth uncorked the sixth-fastest qualifying time in the boys 100 freestyle (50.25), a race in which the top eight qualifiers, including four from the Southern Sky Conference, are separated by less than two seconds.

Ashland's best hope for a relay trophy is its girls 200 freestyle team, which is seeded fifth after winning the SSC title in 1:46.16. While No. 1 seed Crescent Valley and its 1:38.85 qualifying time may be out of the Grizzlies' reach, they could sneak into the top three by shaving a few seconds off their league-winning time.

Ericksen was slowed by a cold last week but said Wednesday that she's feeling "much better" and is looking forward to the state meet pressure cooker.

"It's a completely different atmosphere," said Ericksen, a junior, who qualified for state as a freshman and a sophomore in Texas. "It's really hard to explain, but you're surrounded by all these top competitors and you definitely have to amp up the level because you know they're going to be bringing it, too."

Tracy agreed.

"We swim a lot of meets (at SOU) and we do districts here and it's kind of like our home, then you go to state and it's a big pool and everything's huge," she said. "So it's a lot of competition, it's a lot of pressure. It definitely helps me."

Unless Ashland's relay teams pull off a series of major upsets, the Grizzlies will not compete for a team title. That doesn't mean they won't be keeping an eye on the standings, however. Ashland coach Steve Mitzel believes the Grizzlies can make some noise, even if it's not necessarily for a spot on the medal stand.

"We like to play the spoiler because we have a hard time competing with those Corvallis schools "¦ and some of those year-round clubs," he said. "We show up and it's kind of fun to see the reaction that Ashland gets in the water because we're all over the place, in the mix, and it's just enough to play spoiler.

"I've had relay teams take second place at state because the top two guys were duking it out and one of them got to aggressive and DQ'd. So, we like to come in as the underdogs, knowing that we don't really have much of a chance to take a state championship."

The Class 5A preliminaries are scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. and run through 4:15 p.m. Friday. The 5A finals are scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. Saturday.

Results will be posted throughout each day at

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