Soldotna senior Abriella Werner and Seward senior Bengimin Ambrosiani led the Kenai Peninsula by winning individual titles Saturday at the state swimming and diving meet in Juneau.
Werner put up 464.80 points for the third highest total ever at the state meet. Eagle River’s Jami Stone had 482.75 in 2015 and 474.70 in 2014.
The SoHi senior also broke her own 11-dive record at Soldotna and became the first girls diver from the peninsula to win a state title in records going back to 1974 on the Alaska School Activities Association website.
Soldotna’s Kylin Welch (2018), Homer’s Kasey Brinster (2013) and Skyview’s James Blake (1997) are the peninsula male divers to win state titles.
Ambrosiani won the 50-yard freestyle in 21.93 seconds. He’s the fourth swimmer from Seward to win an individual state title, joining Jacqueline Van Driessche, Ryan O’Leary and Lydia Jacoby. Ambrosiani also was fifth in the 100 butterfly.
Nickolas Ambrosiani, Bengimin’s twin, finished second in the 100 freestyle and 100 backstroke.
The two also were on the podium, joined by Iver Gates and Oliver Trobaugh, by finishing fourth in the 400 freestyle relay. The group had been fifth in the 200 medley relay.
Charisma Watkins got on the podium twice for Soldotna, finishing fourth in the 200 individual medley and fourth in the 100 butterfly. Watkins lowered her own school record in the 200 IM to 2:12.33.
Kenai Central got on the podium in the girls 400 freestyle relay. Sierra Hershberger, Abigail Price, Isla Crouse and Maria Anderson went 3:51.19 to lower their own school record by a second. Price also was sixth in the 200 and 500 freestyles.
Also making the individual finals for SoHi were Nikita Monyahan in sixth in the 200 freestyle and Heidi Snyder in eighth in the 200 freestyle. Monyahan, Michael Davidson, Derrick Jones and Benn Abel were seventh in both the 200 and 400 freestyle relays.
Juneau-Douglas: Yadaa.at Kale won the girls team title, while SoHi in ninth and Kenai in 11th. Service won the boys team title, with Seward in sixth and Soldotna in 12th.
For Werner, the state title completed a whirlwind trip to the top of the state diving scene.
She wasn’t even a diver as a freshman. Werner was still doing gymnastics at River City Cheer and Gymnastics.
The summer after her freshman year, though, she gave the sport up due to injury.
“I’m so grateful for all the years in gymnastics,” Werner said. “I definitely would not be here without that.”
She’s not sure where she came up with the idea to give diving a try, but when she asked a friend on the swimming and diving team if Werner should show up for preseason meeting for the team, the friend encouraged Werner to try it.
The problem was Soldotna did not have a diving coach, so Werner’s mother, Shonia, stepped in to fill the void.
“It’s been really special for both of us to do it together,” Werner said. “We keep learning alongside each other.”
Werner was fourth in the state as a sophomore, then fifth as a junior. With three divers graduating ahead of her after last year, Werner knew she had a chance for big things this year.
She said the season did not start out well, though. Her best friend was no longer on the dive team and Werner was focused on winning state, and not on having fun, at practice.
“I knew I had a chance at state and it clouded my mind,” Werner said. “I forgot to have fun. I started putting on fun music at practice and that was definitely a good turning point.”
Werner thanked God for the gifts he gave her and thanked all her family, friends and teammates for their support. She said it was special to break school records with Watkins both at the conference and state meet.
Werner will do club diving the rest of the year and plans to dive in college. She’s happy her name will be on the state’s top diving list for many years to come.
“It’s such a cool honor,” she said. “It really didn’t hit me until after competition. Now it’s finally starting to sink in.”
When asked for the highlights of the meet, Seward coach Solomon D’ Amico did not mention the individual state title first.
He said it was a tie between winning the sportsmanship award and coming from last place to take fourth in the 400 freestyle relay.
D’ Amico said the Seward staff tries to instill in the swimmers an appreciation for all the adult volunteer effort it takes to make swimming and diving happen.
“We have some high-class, high-character kids in Seward,” D’ Amico said. “We try to instill in them to be classy, not trashy.”
In the 400 free relay, D’ Amico led off with Iver Gates and Oliver Trobaugh. The coach said both swam well, but Seward was still in last headed to the last two legs.
D’ Amico said Bengimin Ambrosiani caught one or two people, then Nickolas took care of the rest to get the relay on the podium. Seward was on the podium twice with boys relays last year.
“Prior to last year, that’s something Seward never achieved,” D’ Amico said. “For us to do that again, with not quite as competitive team as last year, is a testament to how hard they worked and how much sacrifice they made for each other.”
After getting one individual podium at state last year, D’ Amico said it was nice to claim three this year. Also, Nickolas Ambrosiani set the school record at 53.66 seconds in the 100 backstroke in the Friday prelims.
D’ Amico also said Esme Wilder has plenty of motivation for next season after qualifying for state in the 100 butterfly and 100 breaststroke, but missing the finals. The coach said it’s the same for Aubrey Wilder, who just missed state as an alternate in the 100 freestyle.
Both D’ Amico and Kenai head coach William Hubler said it was nice to see the peninsula doing well, and also nice to see the local teams supporting each other.
Hubler said the big highlight for his team was the girls getting a podium in the 400 free relay.
“We haven’t had one of those in a while, especially on the girls side,” Hubler said of a relay podium. “We’ve done really well with those four — a freshman, sophomore, junior and senior.”
Hubler said everybody else who made it to state on his young team did really well. He said Price, just a sophomore, had a great meet by making finals in the 200 and 500 freestyles and taking sixth in both.
“Our future looks bright for Kenai,” Hubler said. “There’s a lot of kids on my club team coming up and doing well. That will be a lot of help for the high school team.”
Kenai Peninsula finalists at state meet
Team scores: 1. Juneau-Douglas: Yadaa.at Kale 101; 2. Thunder Mountain, 90; 3. Eagle River, 75; 4. South, 70; 5. Colony, 53; 6. Dimond, 47; 7. Kodiak, 32; 8. Service, 23; 9. Soldotna, 20; 10. West Valley, 19; 11. Kenai Central, 16; 12 (tie). Sitka, Chugiak, 3; 14. North Pole, 2; 15. Craig, 1.
200-yard freestyle — 6. Abigail Price, Ken, 2:00.64; 8. Heidi Snyder, Sol, 2:05.65.
200 IM — 4. Charisma Watkins, Sol, 2:12.33.
Diving — 1. Abriella Werner, Sol, 464.80.
100 butterfly — 4. Charisma Watkins, Sol, 1:00.17.
500 freestyle — 6. Abigail Price, Ken, 5:31.22.
400 freestyle relay — 4. Kenai (Sierra Hershberger, Abigail Price, Isla Crouse, Maria Anderson), 3:51.19.
Team scores: 1. Service, 122; 2. Eagle River, 64; 3. Chugiak, 62; 4. Dimond, 54; 5. Ketchikan, 52; 6. Seward, 45; 7. West Valley, 31; 8. Colony, 28; 9. Kodiak, 23; 10. Thunder Mountain, 18; 11. Palmer, 13; 12. Soldotna, 11; 13 (tie). Wasilla, Wrangell, 8; 15. South, 6; 16 (tie). West, Juneau, 3; 18. North Pole, 2; 19 (tie). Craig, Sitka, 1.
200 medley relay — 5. Seward (Bengimin Ambrosiani, Nickolas Ambrosiani, Oliver Trobaugh, Iver Gates), 1:41.23.
200 freestyle — 6. Nikita Monyahan, Sol, 1:50.67.
50 freestyle — 1. Bengimin Ambrosiani, Sew, 21.93.
100 butterfly — 5. Bengimin Ambrosiani, Sew, 53.40.
100 freestyle — 2. Nickolas Ambrosiani, Sew, 47.71.
200 freestyle relay — 7. Soldotna (Nikita Monyahan, Michael Davidson, Derrick Jones, Benn Abel), 1:32.95.
100 backstroke — 2. Nickolas Ambrosiani, Sew, 53.79.