Come on in – the water’s fine.
Just watch out for the hundreds of swimmers occupying the water at Butte’s 25-yard YMCA pool, which hosts this year’s Montana state swim meet.
The event is scheduled to kick off at 11 a.m. Friday and run through Saturday.
While 18 high schools throughout the state will be represented, one squad from western Montana – Missoula Hellgate – stands out as a potential double champion.
Much like Helena High claiming the boys’ and girls’ titles last year, the Knights finds themselves in the rare position of featuring some of the top talent regardless of gender.
“Hellgate has some crazy fast swimmers,” said David Lillard, who coaches both Kalispell Flathead and Glacier. “They are definitely one of the powerhouses.”
The Knights carry high aspirations due to their experience as well as their projected finishes in the relay events.
According to the pre-meet rankings Hellgate, which includes 19 seniors, holds the top seeds in five of the six combined relays.
The boys are ranked No. 1 in all three relay events while the girls hold the top spot in both the 200-yard medley and 400 freestyle, and are No. 2 behind Helena in the 200 freestyle.
“Those are really big in terms of points,” said Helen Houlihan, coach of all three Missoula programs. “Relays count for a lot.”
The Knights also hold several top individual seeds.
Junior Hanni Leach returns to defend her 2013 state title victory in the 100 backstroke and will also compete in the 500 freestyle. She is seeded No. 1 in both events.
Teammate Hailey Jacobson, a senior, carries the top ranking in both the 200 individual medley and the 100 breaststroke. She won last year’s 200 IM and was runner up in the 100 breaststroke.
“Our girls are poised to do really well,” Houlihan said. “It’s pretty exciting.”
On the boys’ side, Hellgate has one swimmer with two No. 1 seeds as freshman Cale Berkoff is swimming the 500 freestyle and the 100 backstroke.
Senior Patrick Martyak has the Knights’ second-highest seeding as he holds No. 2 in the 50 freestyle. He is fifth in the 100 breaststroke.
“I think if they all get their game faces on, I think they’ll be just fine,” Houlihan said of Hellgate’s boys.
Missoula Big Sky-Loyola features a strong brother-sister combo in Adam and Kate Zimmer.
Kate, a senior, is ranked first in the 50 freestyle and the 100 butterfly.
Adam, a freshman, is projected as the top swimmer in both the 100 breaststroke and 200 IM.
“Big Sky-Loyola is looking good,” Houlihan said. “We expect them to have some strong showings.”
Rounding out the Missoula schools is Sentinel, which is led by juniors Andrea Schmidt – No. 1 in the girls’ 100 and 200 freestyle events – and Ryan Mason – No. 1 in the boys’ 100 butterfly and No. 4 in the 100 backstroke.
Flathead senior McKenzie Lane looks to lead the Bravettes as she brings a No. 10 seeding in the 500 freestyle and is 14th in the 100 butterfly.
The Braves carry the No. 11 seed in the boys’ 400 freestyle relay and are No. 14 in the 200 freestyle relay.
“The Flathead boys aren’t really looking to score individually,” Lillard said, “but their relays are pretty close.”
Glacier features two standout swimmers on the boys’ side in senior Joshua Loyda and sophomore Jake Cirincione.
Loyda boasts No. 3 seeds in both of his events – the 50 freestyle and 100 backstroke – while Cirincione is No. 2 in the 100 butterfly and No. 4 in the 200 IM.
“They are seeded well in both of their events,” Lillard said of Loyda and Cirincione. “Josh took second in the 100 back last year, so he’s a real threat to take that, and it’s possible they both win or take top three in their other events.”
The Wolfpack’s top swimmer on the girls’ side is sophomore Emma Hornby, who will compete in the 50 freestyle (rnked 19th) and the 100 backstroke (20th).
As for the rest of the state, Lillard sees Helena and Bozeman in addition to Hellgate as teams to beat.
“Helena for sure, I mean, the guys and girls both won last year,” he said. “Bozeman, too, has some individuals who are great swimmers and in the top three.”
Regardless of who’s in the water, Houlihan says she expects everyone to give it their all.
“These meets bring out the best in people,” she said. “You’re going to see a lot of fast times this weekend.”