By Nick Snow
STILLWATER, Okla. —
It’s been 14 years since the Stillwater High School swimming team hung its last state championship banner in the Pioneer Fieldhouse.
With a core group of swimmers back for both the boys and girls, Stillwater coach Kurt Goebel hopes to put that streak to an end.
“We’ll be in Class 5A, but I think we have a decent chance at it,” Goebel said. “We have some talented kids coming up through the freshman class. We’ll certainly try to put together a situation where we we’ll be competitive, if not try to win it.”
That quest for the elusive state championship begins 6 p.m. Thursday at the Stillwater Family YMCA, when Stillwater takes on Booker T. Washington.
“I know the kids are ready to get going,” Goebel said. “What I have to be careful of is that they don’t go out and swim themselves out the first meet and then just kind of fumble along until the state meet. We want to get in the mindset that every time we go out, we try to improve our times, improve our scores and improve our relays.”
Relay teams weren’t a problem for the Lady Pioneers last year. Stillwater won the 200-meter medley and the 400-meter freestyle relays at the state meet and looks to repeat the feat with Sydney Goad and Alex Thomas back this season.
“I was just putting the relays together for Booker T. Washington and I think we’ll have an A, B and C relay in the medley and probably in the 200 free and 400 free,” Goebel said. “We could have three teams that will make the state (qualifying) times in the first meet. That’s how much depth we have.”
Goad and Thomas are expected to lead the way for the Lady Pioneers, but it’s the mystery of how well some of the younger swimmers will perform that has Goebel excited about the season.
“I’m anxious to see some of the unknowns,” Goebel said. “I haven’t seen some of these kids in a competitive atmosphere and how they swim. The things that they do at practice, you may not see at the meet, or they may make a mistake at the meet that we can fix. There’s a lot of unknowns there and I’m anxious to see how the kids are doing.”
It isn’t just the girls who will be looking to raise a new banner at the end of the year. The Pioneers also have aspirations of making a big splash at state after finishing 10th in Class 6A last season. The boys will be looking for their first state championship since winning back-to-back titles in 1973 and 1974.
“We have 22 boys swimming and a lot of talent in there,” Goebel said. “We’ve got some kids that could potentially do very well. ... We’ll have a lot of kids qualify for state at the first meet and we’ll be several relays deep. We’ve got some kids working hard and I think the boys’ team will do really well.
“The only significant guy we’re missing is Clark Hattey. I think they’re motivated and I think they’re excited about competing. I’m anxious to see what kind of times they can kick out.”
Goebel said that kind of depth has already produced some intense competition in practice — something Goebel hopes carries over throughout the season.
“We saw that (Monday) in practice,” Goebel said. “I kind of broke them up into stroke lanes. They know what strokes they’re going to be doing and what they’re going to be mastering or specializing in, and they’re starting to become a little competitive on that in pushing each other.
“We had a pretty young group of kids that wasn’t terribly experienced. Our senior class started off swimming as sophomores. Now they’ve developed a good stroke technique and good skill. I’ve seen good results from them. Our juniors are a lot more experienced and our sophomores have a lot of good talent. I think you’ll see that overall level on the boys’ team will be a lot better than last year.”
The competition may heat up at times in practice, but Goebel said what may be the biggest factor in whether or not both teams get to state won’t be in the pool but outside the pool.
“I think the kids get along really well,” Goebel said. “It seems like it’s a pretty good group. Normally, when you have a large boys team like that there are some kids that get along with others and some that don’t. They form little cliques, and the same can be said for the girls. We just really haven’t had any of that. Every one pretty much likes each other and they work hard, and it ends up being a pretty good situation all the way around. It’s been pretty easy to coach so far and that’s probably going to help us down the road.”
It’s too early to tell if Goebel and crew will have to clear some space in the trophy case, but even if Stillwater is unable to return with a state championship Goebel feels like the program is moving in the right direction.
“I don’t know about state champions, but I think that we have several swimmers that could be in the finals,” Goebel said. “The state champion part will be determined by them — how hard they’re willing to work and how much confidence they can build between now and the end of the year. There are a lot of things that can happen. I’ve seen it. I’ve seen kids that have been kind of so-so and then all of a sudden they start to tear the place up. We’ll set the table for them and we’ll see if some of them decide to sit down and eat.”