Simms, Grizz swimmers have sights set on state meet glory

Gus Simms knows what it takes to win at the state swim meet. So when the Ashland High senior says it's "going to be very, very difficult" to win the 500-yard freestyle, that's only because the odds are not in his favor, and he knows it.

Likewise, when Simms says that the 100 butterfly will be a dogfight that will likely come down to the last few strokes, fans should make a mental note to stick around for that one.

"If I really give it my all I think I have a good chance," Simms said of his prospects in the 100 fly at this weekend's Class 5A state swim meet, which begins today with preliminary races at Mt. Hood Community College in Gresham. "When I swam my most recent best time at districts this past weekend I didn't feel 100 percent on — I actually messed up one of the turns. So, I think I can go a lot faster this coming weekend."

Simms represents Ashland's best chance at bringing home a state championship in an individual event and also will swim a leg for the Ashland boys 200 free relay, which is seeded second behind only the Summit squad it narrowly lost to at last week's District 5 meet. Also swimming for the Grizz boys in individual events will be Cole Harding (50 free, 100 free), while in the relays the Grizzlies will be busy, having qualified for the girls 200 free relay, the boys 400 free relay and the boys 200 free relay.

Last season, Simms swam the first leg for Ashland's 400 free relay team at state, helping the Grizzlies stun Summit and take the title in a dramatic flip-flop from the district meet one week prior.

Ashland hopes to do the same this year in the 200. Cole Harding, Alex Sukles, Miles Furuichi and Simms were nipped by Summit at districts, 1 minute, 31.64 seconds to 1:32.60, but are confident that they can make up the difference in the race that really matters Saturday afternoon.

"Our goal in the (200 free relay) is to give (Simms) enough of a chance," Ashland head coach Steve Mitzel said, pointing out that Summit anchor Tommy Brewer presents a mammoth obstacle. "Head to head, I think (Brewer) gets Gus every time because he's built to be a sprinter — he's 6-3 and looks like Michael Phelps. But if we can give Gus enough of a lead, I think Gus can hang on to it."

That's essentially what Ashland did last season in the 400, when Kai Staal held off Brewer to clinch the upset. Simms helped get the ball rolling with a 50.56 opening leg. This year, the pressure will be on Simms to do the finishing, a role he enjoys.

"It's definitely going to be a lot of pressure," he said. "I remember last year when we won, I was the leadoff and that was kind of nice to start it off and not have all the pressure. But this year, it's going to be exciting, I think. Very nerve-racking. Especially going against Tommy Brewer."

Mitzell is counting on Simms' experience paying off.

"I'm hoping he gets those guys pumped up because he's been there before," Mitzel said. "They want to spoil Summit's party, they really do. That's the goal. That's not out of spite, that's friendly competition."

In the 100 fly, Simms has the second-best qualifying time (52.13) behind Springfield junior Carlos Hunnicutt (51.47), the defending state champion. Simms placed third last season in 53.05. His 52.13 at districts set a new school record, but Mitzel won't edit the Ashland High wall of records at the Southern Oregon University pool until after the state meet, where Simms is expected to improve upon the mark.

"I think Gus has a chance," Mitzel said. "I think he's always had a chance to beat (Hunnicutt), but he knows what he's going to have to do to do that, and that's swim the fastest 100 he's ever swam."

Simms' chances at pulling off the upset are much slimmer in the 500 free. He's seeded fifth (5:00.24), 14 seconds off the pace of favorite Brandon Shreeve of Corvallis.

Harding is the 10th seed in the 50 free and the 11th seed in the 100 free.

The Ashland boys enter with the third-best qualifying time in the 400 free relay, but their 3:26.94 is five seconds off the pace set by Summit (3:21.98).

On the girls side, Ashland's 200 free relay team has the seventh-best qualifying time. A good goal for them, says Mitzel, would be to qualify for the six-team final. After that, who knows?

"That's why this is fun," Mitzel said, "that's why I love coaching it. They're high school kids, so you just never know what's going to happen."

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