Grizzlies make waves at state swim meet

The Ashland High swim team qualified for the finals in two relays and five individual events at the OSAA Class 5A state swim meet Friday at Mount Hood Community College in Gresham.

The Grizzlies' top performers were junior Kirsten Ericksen and seniors Kaylee Tracy and Lucas Opgenorth. Both Ericksen and Tracy advanced to the finals in their two individual events and swam a leg for the Ashland girls' 200 freestyle relay team, which placed third in the preliminaries to qualify for the finals. Opgenorth had the fourth-fastest preliminary time in the 100 freestyle (50.06 seconds) to qualify for the finals in that event, and also swam a lightning-fast final leg for the Ashland boys' 400 freestyle relay team, which defied expectations by qualifying for the finals.

"We didn't really know what to expect," Ashland head coach Steve Mitzel said. "I was hopeful that we'd do well, so five individuals plus two relay teams — we're sitting in a great spot. We may have just a single swimmer here and there, but people have no choice to pay attention to what we're doing."

Also for the Grizzlies: freshman Gus Simms had the 10th-fastest time in both the 100 butterfly (58.20) and the 500 freestyle (5:10.39); senior Jake Gavin finished 11th in the 200 individual medley (2:18.28); the AHS boys' 200 medley and 200 freestyle relay teams both had the ninth-best time; and the Ashland girls' 200 medley and 400 freestyle relay teams took eighth and 12th, respectively.

Swimmers and relay teams with the top six times qualify for today's championship round, which is scheduled to begin at 1 p.m.

Ericksen continued what has become a banner first season at Ashland High after moving here from Texas over the summer. She swam the fifth-fastest 200 IM (2:18.37) and the second-fastest 100 breaststroke (1:08.87). In between, she completed a solid second leg for the 200 freestyle relay team, which heads into the finals 1.42 seconds off the pace set by No. 1 Willamette.

Ericksen's best shot at capturing a state title is probably the breaststroke, but it will also be the last event she'll compete in. That will be a lot to overcome, points out Mitzel, because Ericksen suffers from chronic knee pain that gets progressively worse the more she swims.

"She knows it, and she knows how to deal with it," Mitzel said.

Tracy was just as impressive as Ericksen, finishing with the third-best time in the 50 freestyle (25.45) and fourth-fastest time in the 100 freestyle (56.96). She also completed her leg of the 200 freestyle relay in a team-best 24.89 seconds.

Ashland's 400 freestyle relay team delivered one of the day's biggest shockers on the boys' side. It was seeded ninth coming into the meet, but Simms, Gavin, Johnny Plumlee and Opgenorth shaved more than four seconds off their qualifying time to leapfrog three higher seeds and storm into the finals with a 3:28.43.

"That was one heck of a race," Mitzel said. "They got together before that race and they knew exactly what each one of them had to do. Each one of those guys dropped a tremendous amount of time in those events. They're really strategizing tonight [Friday] about dropping a few more seconds and getting in the top three."

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