Swimming teams looking for leaders to guide talent - Ahwatukee Foothills News: Sports

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Swimming teams looking for leaders to guide talent

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Posted: Friday, August 16, 2013 9:45 am

The high school swimming season can be difficult to navigate for coaches at times with club swimmers missing practice more often than not.

At the same time talent is always welcome.

Desert Vista coach Shawn O’Connell and Mountain Pointe coach Steve Mancuso know this as well as anyone.

The two programs have been home to some of the state’s top talent in recent years and 2013 should be no different. Some of the athletes might not spend as much time at the home pool as others, but once they put on their school’s colors at a meet it all comes together.

The Thunder, who open the season Sept. 12 at Mountain View, are coming off a season in which the girls finished fifth at the state meet and the boys were ninth.

A lot of those contributors are back as defending city champions.

“We are excited for the season to get started,” O’Connell said. “Both teams have a tremendous amount of talent and potential both in age and events. We are swimming a particularly tough schedule this year, which will test us weekly. Our goals are to come together as a team, work hard, repeat at the Tempe City Championships, and compete with the best at the state meet.”

On the girls side the top competitors are Cecelia Kowalski (200/500 free), Emily Ankeney (50 free), and Annabella Ankeney (100 free), along with Madeline Nichols (50 free, 50 and 100 back), Bailee Blankemeir (200 IM, 100 butter), Erin Speilman (back) and Eliza Quah (breast, freestyle).

The boys will be led by Dieter Benz (200, 500 free), Connor Bagnall (100 IM), Trey Roggenstein (100 breast), while Matthew Beutler and Grant Bowers will be the key distance swimmers. Michael Hopper will be a top diver and Nikolai Phalen was the most improved in 2012.

Plus, there is some help on the way as well.

“We have an extremely talented freshmen class,” O’Connell said. “The boys will have strong depth in all events except sprint freestyle. The girls have strong depth in all events with the exception of breaststroke.”

Mancuso doesn’t have as many club swimmers compared to years past.

“It makes for a truly fun high school season,” he said. “A lot of times those end up being my favorite years because there is more of a team feel.”

The Pride, which finished 14th at state in the boys and girls meet, will look to be adding a new teammate in October as Mancuso and his wife are expecting their first baby just about the time of their first anniversary.

“It will probably be hectic for a while and I will be going on less sleep, but I know the teams will be in good hands if I am away,” he said.

The boys squad will be led by Bryce Burchi (500, 200 free, 100 fly, 200 IM), Vince Perez (100 breast, 100 fly, 200 free), TJ Rachford (100 fly, 100 back, 100 free), Robert Burge (100 fly, 200 IM), Jordan Nelson (diving), and Tanner Thomas (diving).

The girls might have more talent returning in Nora Mencinger (200 IM, 100 breast), Alexis Ramirez (100 back, sprinter), Shannon Smith (200, 500 free, 100 fly), Sarah Ding, and McKenna Rafferty (100 back, 100 free, 100 butterfly).

Mancuso said the one concern might be replacing the leadership that was in place last year behind Clara Jenck, Ben Fitch and Jeff Ding, but knows some will take over the role.

“They really pushed us last year and I suspect some of the younger swimmers saw how important it was,” he said. “They’ll step up. Someone always does.”

• Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or jskoda@ahwatukee.com. Follow him on Twitter @JSkodaAFN.

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Jason P. Skoda
  • Jason P. Skoda
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  • Resident sports writer at the Ahwatukee Foothills News

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