Tony Back

Tony Back comes up for a breath of air while warming up at a preseason practice at the Rec Center pool Dec. 6. Back is one of the senior leaders for this year’s team.

One thing’s for sure when looking at this year’s Douglas High School boys swimming and diving program.

They’ve got the numbers.

According to junior swimmer Michael Gifford, the team had to grow to keep the program alive after dropping to only four swimmers two seasons ago.

“The school’s been talking about, ‘If you don’t get enough people to swim, then they’re going to cut the team,” Gifford said, so the remaining swimmers got to work to add to the team.

With the surge in participation, the team lives to swim another day.

Thanks to inner-team recruiting efforts from athletes to fellow classmates and a a change in atmosphere within the program itself, things are on an upward swing.

The program now has 16 swimmers, nearly double of nine last year and four two years ago. Five who advanced to the 3A State Swimming and Diving Championships return as well.

One change longtime swimmers like Gifford have noticed in practice is they don’t get their own lanes any more. For them, it’s a good problem to have.

At the end of last season, then first year head coach Baxter Heinert was hoping for a big class of eighth graders to come up and join the squad as freshmen. Her prediction came true, as a swath of freshman, along with older newcomers to swimming boosted the team’s roster.

“We had a huge turnout of new swimmers,” she said. “We definitely came out right where we wanted to with numbers. However we got there, we definitely got there.”

In only a few short practices this season, the coach is happy with what she’s seen.

“I think we are starting out with a higher number of strong swimmers,” Heinert said. “I’m guessing I will have eight, if not nine, qualify for state this year.”

Beyond the core leaders spearheading the charge, Heinert noted seven swimmers that have shown a lot of promise in only a handful of days early on in preseason practice.

“They’re catching on really fast . . . they also have a no-quit attitude,” she said. “They are willing to put up with (the needed) hard work right now.”

One of the newcomers is sophomore Ronnan McPherson, who will fill the much-needed diving slot to garner points team points. A lack of a diver was something that hurt the squad in the past, and Heinert is excited to have Ronnan, the younger brother of Moira McPherson, who was crowned as a state champion diver in 2018 during her senior year.

“Mo is coming down once a week from Casper to help him move along and learn the ropes,” the coach added.

“I thought I might as well join the train,” Ronnan joked of joining his older brother’s (Seamus’) and Moira’s tradition of diving. “So far it’s been fun.”

Ronnan has also been seeking out help from fellow divers around the state and coaches, showing Heinert he’s serious about stepping up to be a contributor to the program.

“He’s pretty competitive and has absolutely no fear,” she said.

Ronnan alluded to not being the lone diver for long, as he predicted one or more teammates will be joining him on the board in the future.

Other swimmers bringing a positive boost to the team include returning senior Tony Back, and senior newcomers Jose Alvarez and Britten Young. The coach said Back is thrilled to kick off his senior year.

“I’ve never seen a senior more excited,” Heinert said. “He’s coming out positive. He’s always been a leader for my team but as a senior it kind of takes on a whole new stance.”

Alvarez brings athleticism to the program, as he is using this swim season to build up his physical conditioning for the spring soccer season. The newcomer is a foreign exchange student from Cali, Colombia, who hopes to earn a scholarship to play soccer in the States after he graduates this spring.

“It’s fun but also it’s challenging because all of them are pretty good,” Alvarez said of his teammates.

Young is starting a whole new ball game, literally. The senior switched from basketball to swimming this year, but told the coach he won’t let that stand in the way of his success.

“He has some serious perseverance and he’s learning something new,” Heinert said. “We’re really expecting him to turn around and he’s going to be great in quite a few strokes for us.”

With seven juniors also joining the team, Heinert can’t help but feel positive about how the boys swimming and diving program has made a big turnaround in the past couple seasons. She said atmosphere and team chemistry can go a long way toward changing the culture.

“Everybody on my team feels like they belong, and they also feel like they contribute,” she said. “Swimming is great because it’s an individual sport, but we try to make it as much of a team sport as we can.”

The first gauge to the team’s early progress will take place Saturday, Dec. 14, as the team heads to Rawlins for a meet that will feature a pentathlon style setup. This allows for swimmers to compete in five events of their choosing.

“I’m expecting at least three or four of my swimmers to enter all five of them,” the coach said. “And I expect quite a few qualifying probably (for state) right away, at least from the qualifiers from last year.”

“We’re really looking forward to being pretty competitive this year,” Heinert said. “We’re going to have a good showing in our conference.”

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