When Soldotna diving coach Dennis Reger asked a group of swimmers in the fall of 2015 if a few wanted to join the dive team, the first hand that hesitantly rose up was that of freshman Kylin Welch.
Now a senior, Welch gave Reger the greatest gift a coach could receive Saturday at the ASAA state swimming and diving championships with a state title in the boys diving event, sending Reger off into retirement as a winner.
“It’s a big moment,” said an emotional Reger. “What a way to go out.”
The championship is the first state crown for a SoHi swimmer or diver in 15 years, the last coming in 2003 when Abby Kiffmeyer claimed double gold in the girls 100 butterfly and 100 backstroke.
The Dimond girls and Service boys captured team championships at the meet, with the Lynx tallying their fourth straight girls title and the Cougars getting their first state boys title since 1996.
The Kenai Central boys took fifth in the team standings as the top peninsula school with 32 points, tied with Juneau-Douglas. SoHi finished ninth in the boys team race while Homer was 11th and Seward was 15th.
In the girls team race, Homer was the top peninsula school in ninth with 23 points, while Seward was 10th and SoHi was 13th.
The other big peninsula performance of the day came from Seward freshman sensation Lydia Jacoby, who rolled up two state titles in the girls 200-yard IM and the 100-yard breastroke, the latter which saw her break the eight-year-old state record in the event.
Jacoby was announced as the Outstanding Female Athlete of the meet, along with Outstanding Male Athlete winner Caleb Law of Service.
If no one knew the name Lydia Jacoby, they sure know it now.
Jacoby blazed a path to the girls 100-yard breaststroke state record — officially — with a time of 1:03.11, erasing the 2010 mark of 1:04.50 held by Kodiak’s Laura Griffing. Jacoby had eclipsed the state record twice before this season, including last weekend at the region meet with a PR of 1:03.05, but times do not count for the official record book outside of the state meet.
“It was coming,” said a pleased Seward head coach Meghan O’Leary. “We knew it was coming for a while.”
Jacoby took two wins Saturday, adding a victory in the girls 200 IM before tallying her breaststroke record. In the IM event, Jacoby trailed by about four seconds and in fifth place at the halfway point, but posted a monstrous breaststroke leg of the four-stroke event, quickly eating into the lead of Dimond’s Dreamer Kowatch to catch and pass her before starting the final freestyle leg.
The two wins are the first state championships for a Seward swimmer since 2010, when Ryan O’Leary won double gold in the boys 50 and 100 freestyle races. O’Leary’s older sister, Meghan, now the head swim coach, said Jacoby’s performances made for a proud day to be a Seahawk.
The only other Seward swimmer at the state meet, junior Connor Spanos, also brought home a strong finish with a fourth in the boys 100 butterfly final. O’Leary said Spanos had just overcome an illness, so the result was impressive.
The top finish for the Homer Mariners was a fourth for the girls 200 freestyle relay, with Madison Story, Ella Blanton-Yourkowski, Adeline Berry and Alia Bales making up the team.
Also for Homer, Clayton Arndt wrapped up a stout season with a fifth place in the boys 100 freestyle final.
Other peninsula highlights included the boys 100 butterfly race, which featured three peninsula finalists. Spanos of Seward took fourth while SoHi’s Ethan Evans was fifth and Kenai’s Owen Rolph took eighth. Evans also finished fourth in the boys 50 free final.