Emily Bolling

Ketchikan High School diver Emily Bolling competes in an event during the Ketchikan Invitational on Oct. 5, 2019 at the Gateway Aquatic Center. Staff photo by Dustin Safranek

A couple of weeks ago, Ketchikan High School swimming coach Gary Crowe asked Kayhi’s Jakob Gonzalez and Lauren Olson to step up on the starting blocks, and swim as fast as they could, using whichever stroke they wanted to.

“Just swim as fast as you can; whatever you want to do,” he said.

Olson opted for freestyle; Gonzalez chose the backstroke.

“Both of them did best times — by two seconds,” Crowe said. “So wait until we have some competition.”

Quick times have been a theme for Ketchikan’s swimming team, since the squad officially started a few weeks ago. It’s been nearly a year since almost everyone on roster competed in their most recent meet.

But this weekend, Kayhi will finally have some competition — sort of.

Just like Kayhi’s virtual cross country meets this season, due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, Ketchikan’s swim and dive team also will be competing virtually.

This weekend is considered Kayhi’s home meet at the Gateway Aquatic Center, although it will be the first of five virtual meets at home. Saturday’s competition begins at 2 p.m., with warm-ups at 1 p.m.

Juneau-Douglas, Thunder Mountain, Sitka, Petersburg, Wrangell and Craig high schools also will participate.

“Everyone will send us their results, and then we’ll tabulate it and send out who won,” Crowe said. “At first I thought we’d have to do it on Zoom. I thought, ‘Oh gosh, that’s going to be really weird.’”

Ketchikan lists 28 swimmers and divers on roster, which is just a couple shy of last season’s 30-person roster. But the squad graduated 10 seniors last season, giving Ketchikan an influx of younger talent this year.

“We’re young,” Crowe said. “We only have three senior girls this year.”

Along with team captains Kyan Klinger, Riley Castle, Evelyn Staples and Judith Meiresonne, Ketchikan’s squad includes experienced swimmers such as Alec Lundburg, Larry Kuharich and John Bullock, as well as freshman Trevor Dash.

“(They’re) doing real good,” Crowe said.

Divers Jenna Smith and Ashlynn Smith, as well as Paris Knuteson and Emily Bolling, will compete in their first meet of the season this weekend.

Kayhi also has added three boys’ divers to the squad — Everr Kistler, Talen Stout and Killian Connolly. Male divers are something that have been missing from Ketchikan’s roster the past few years.

“(They’re) coming along,” Crowe said of the boys’ diving team. “They won’t dive this weekend. They don’t have their 10 days (of practice) yet. But we’ll have (them) the next meet. ... (Diving coach) Eryn (Brooks) said it’s the most divers she’s ever had.”

Although the season officially started earlier this month, Kayhi has been jumping in the pool since early June — pretty much as soon as the Ketchikan Gateway Borough gave the go-ahead that using the pool amid the pandemic was OK.

“Basically, it’s been practice as normal, for us, because our levels (for coronavirus) have been so low in Ketchikan,” Crowe said. “Juneau’s are really high, and they have to follow a different set of rules.

“... I think we’re ahead of the game than the other teams starting. I know Juneau started later than us, and Sitka has strict (swimming rules). They only allow three people in a lane. We don’t have that.”

Upon entering the Gateway Recreation Center, a short health questionaire is taken. Crowe also asks every Ketchikan swimmer and diver health related questions.

“We, as a team, and Ketchikan are doing good,” he said. “I mean, health wise, the kids have been really good. We told them from the beginning that this is going to be a different year.”

Ketchikan’s kids have taken the coronavirus seriously.

“We have some good kids,” Crowe said.

Not only are they ‘good kids.’ They’re fast kids, too.

“They’ve been working hard,” Crowe said. “We’re ahead of where we were last year. Last year, one lane was all teaching all of the time. And this year, (almost everyone) has learned that stuff. So they’re coming along.”

And it’s because of that growth in the sport, from one season to the next, that Ketchikan will have more participants in its first meet — albeit virtually — than last season’s first meet in Sitka.

“We’re doing more events the first weekend than we did last year, the first weekend,” Crowe said. “Last year, we had a lot of exhibition swims because they couldn’t do all of the strokes, and now they (can). So that makes it better for us going through (the events).”

Ketchikan will race against itself through each event. There will be 11 swimming events and six diving competitions.

“High school meets, with everybody here, generally takes two and a half, three hours,” Crowe said. “So I think we’ll take an hour and a half, maybe two hours.”

The swim and dive team competed for a couple hours on Friday. It will hit the starting blocks once again at 2 p.m. Saturday.

“After watching them swim (fast at practice), I’m really excited to see what they do,” Crowe said.

More virtual meets ahead

Ketchikan is planning on hosting Wrangell and Craig high schools for a swim meet on Oct. 25-26. The two teams will come to the First City to compete against Juneau-Douglas, Thunder Mountain, Sitka and Petersburg high schools virtually. However, Sitka has reached out to Crowe, and asked if its squad could join the schools at the Gateway Aquatic Center that weekend, if Juneau doesn’t lower its coronavirus levels.

Regions at home

Ketchikan is scheduled to host the regional meet later this year. Regions is scheduled for the week before Thanksgiving, on Nov. 20-21.

Here is the roster for Ketchikan’s swim and dive team:

Emily Bolling, John Bullock, Kristal Bullock, Owen Campbell, Emilee Caskey, Riley Castle, Trevor Dash, Ian Eldridge, Ava Elerding, Makayla Harris, Andrew Hildebrandt, Anna Jones, Juliana Kealiinohomoku, Kyan Klinger, Paris Knuteson, Larry Kuharich, Jakob Lazo-Gonzalez, Alec Lundburg, Judith Meiresonne, Lauren Olson, David Rasmussen, Ashlynn Smith, Jenna Smith, Evelyn Staples, Charles Thiede, Everr Kistler, Talen Stout, Killian Connolly.

*Names courtesy of Ketchikan High School Swim and Dive team.