The Seward High swim team has just completed the last of two final meets before their impending return to Palmer for the region championships on Oct. 28. With an overall victory at the SoHi Pentathlon on Oct. 7 and a triumphant third-place Palmer Invite showing that produced new personal best times across the board last weekend, the Seahawks now stand poised to dominate regions and ultimately advance to the state championships as formidable contenders.
The penultimate meet of the regular season, the SoHi Pentathlon afforded each member of the team an opportunity to swim 50-yard races in each stroke — butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke and freestyle — as well as a 100-yard individual medley.
“They get to swim the four 50s of each stroke, and then they also do the 100 IM,” said coach Solomon D’Amico, “and then at the end of it, they take the best cumulative time, and the winner’s the one that swims all five events the fastest.”
Senior Jackson Bird ranked third overall in the pentathlon, with a 30.58 second place finish in the 50-yard breaststroke and two third place swims, clocking in at 25.62 in the 50-yard butterfly and at 59.49 in the 100-yard individual medley. Fellow senior Paxton Hill brought home a gold in the 50-yard butterfly with a new personal best time of 24.56, bringing the team’s total points 263, over double that of second-place Soldotna, with 126.
“We ended up more than doubling the next closest score,” D’Amico said. “It really just speaks to the quality that we have with those four upperclassmen. They swam to their potential, which is all you can ask.”
The second day of the SoHi meet, the SoHi Invite, featured a more traditional competition, and again many Seward swimmers emerged with noteworthy performances.
In the girls’ competition, sophomore Hallee Schoening swam a 2:44.48 in the 200-yard freestyle, for a tenth-place finish. In the 100-yard backstroke, Schoening rebounded from a disqualification earlier in the season to swim a 1:27.11.
“That was a really cool redemption moment for her,” D’Amico said.
Freshman Esmé Wilder clocked a 1:14.98 in the 100-yard butterfly, almost four seconds better than her previous best of 1:18.93. Wilder also turned in a new personal best in the 100-yard backstroke at 1:11.83, down from her 1:17.53 previous best.
“She’s improving leaps and bounds,” D’Amico said. “She’s one of the most attentive kids I’ve coached. Nothing really gets by her. She remembers everything. Conditioning and fine-tuning technique, it’s clicking for her. I think she’s having a really great season.”
Jackson Bird also eclipsed a previous best on day two, this time in the 100-yard butterfly. Bird credited his summer training in the Seward Tsunami Swim Camp with bringing him in under a minute, shattering his old time.
“He hadn’t swam it in a few years,” Coach D’Amico said, “but we went from a 1:12.45 down to a 57.90, almost 15 seconds there. Both he and Esmé had some pretty epic reactions when they looked up at the clock, the scoreboard, and saw how much time they slashed.”
Bird finished second to Paxton Hill’s 56.60 first-place finish, netting the team 12 points for the day between them.
For all three of the boys’ relays, the coach gave both Bird and Hill the opportunity to save their strength for their individual events, substituting sophomore Oliver Trobaugh and freshman Iver Gates.
“We plugged them in to the three relays, and they more than held their own,” D’Amico said.
The coach added that the substitutions gave the underclassmen an opportunity to race with the two swimmers who will be their fellow upperclassmen next year, juniors Ben and Nick Ambrosiani.
“With those underclassmen we ended up taking the number four spot there, and everybody swam really good legs,” D’Amico said. “Obviously the underclassmen weren’t going to be as fast as the seniors, but for their particular capabilities at the moment, they swam very well.”
In the 200-yard medley relay, the team swam a respectable fourth place 1:54.96. Later, in the 200-yard freestyle relay, the underclassmen joined the Ambrosiani twins again for a 1:38.06 second-place finish. Of particular note was Trobaugh’s performance.
“Oliver, who just a week before our Seward Invite, swam his 50 free in 29.86 as anchor in the 4x50 freestyle, dropped from a 29.86 to a 26.05,” D’Amico said. “Granted, it’s a relay start, so it’s not like the time counts for his individual 50-free time, but seeing darn near four seconds come off in the fastest event is kind of jaw-dropping, honestly.”
Trobaugh also turned in an impressive 200-yard individual medley swim at 2:43.54, just shy of eight seconds faster than his seed time for that event.
“He’s starting to really establish himself as a very solid, confident swimmer in all of his events,” D’Amico said.
Ben Ambrosiani hit a new personal best time in the 100-yard backstroke, his first sub-minute time, with 59.18 for a third-place finish. Just behind him, Paxton Hill took fourth with a 1:01.95.
Jackson Bird also clocked a new personal best in the 100-yard breaststroke, with a 1:07.21 first-place finish.
In the boys 400-yard freestyle relay, the team finished third with a 3:42.34. Again, it was Oliver Trobaugh whose leg of the race showed exceptional improvement, down seven seconds from his previous best.”
“There was a little bit of pressure on him to perform, and you love to see that when the pressure’s on, the kids rise to the occasion,” D’Amico said. “They answer the bell and they push through and endure from their teammates.”
The coach went on to praise Nick and Ben Ambrosiani for their dependability throughout all three relays.
“They were consistently at their best times and performances,” he said.
When the second day’s scores from all events were tallied, the Seward boys emerged the clear victors by seven points.
“We got the results on the drive back to Seward, and the van got pretty loud for a while there,” D’Amico said.
Last weekend, at the Palmer Invite, they began the meet invigorated by the previous week’s win. Returning to their places in all relays were seniors Paxton Hill and Jackson Bird, beginning with the 200-yard medley relay.
“We got some focused backstroke start work this past week,” D’Amico said. “Ben Ambrosiani had a great week of practice, getting that dialed in, and he ended up hitting about a half second faster than his typical split for a 50-back to open that.”
Each member of the team then held the momentum that Ambrosiani established out of the gate, for a winning time of 1:44.49.
“Jackson Bird swam his best leg by about two-tenths on the season,” D’Amico said. “Paxton swam four-tenths faster than his best relay split on the season, and Nick was about a tenth or two faster on his split, the freestyle.”
In the 200-yard freestyle relay, the team had qualified first in the preliminaries with a season best seed time of 1:33.91. Unfortunately, the relay team was disqualified in the finals for what the judges deemed was an early exchange. Under the rules, when the incoming swimmer contacts the pad, the next swimmer must still be in contact with the blocks.
“Looking at the video, it was really close to a perfect exchange in that it was nearly instantaneous,” Coach D’Amico said. “The officials, we respect their call. The only thing I could do was ask if it was double-confirmed, that there were two officials that saw it like this, and unfortunately that’s what they called on us. We’ve got to live with that, move on, and try to do better next time.”
For the girls, Esmé Wilder, despite not feeling well, clocked a new personal best in the 100-yard butterfly with an eighth place 1:13.85, just over a second faster than her previous best.
“She just continues to get better,” D’Amico said. “To see a personal best in such a challenging event like the 100-butterfly, when you’re not feeling well, just speaks volumes to the kid’s character and her work ethic and her desire to improve.”
In the 200-yard freestyle, Hallee Schoening out-swam her 2:44.48 seed time by roughly four seconds, wrapping up her sophomore season with a new personal best of 2:40.15, finishing tenth overall.
“She’s learning more and more how good of an athlete she already is and how good she could be,” D’Amico said. “She’s getting better and better at learning how to push herself and accept some of the discomfort that comes with improving your performance.”
In the boys’100-yard butterfly, it was again Trobaugh who trounced his previous best.
“He came into the meet with a 1:15.09,” the coach said. “In the prelim, he dropped that down to a 1:08.90, just a little over seven seconds faster. He then proceeded in the B final, he went down to a 1:05.72. So he dropped over ten seconds in one weekend’s worth of races. This guy is starting to see, he’s not just a so-so swimmer, he’s actually starting to make it apparent that he is an above-average swimmer and has some potential in this sport.”
Paxton Hill swam a new lifetime best in the same event, at 56.08.
“I have a lot of confidence that he will be dropping down into the 55s, if not a little bit lower, come regions, and hopefully state,” said the coach.
In the 100-yard backstroke, Nick Ambrosiani broke a minute for the first time, clocking a new lifetime best in the preliminaries with 59.11, and then 1.00.04 in the finals.
In the 100-yard breaststroke, Iver Gates qualified for the top seed of the B final with a prelim time of 1:14.83. He would go on to beat that time in the final with a 1:13.38, almost two seconds under his seed time.
“It was cool to see him go through that prelim-final experience,” Coach D’Amico said. “He had performed the way you would hope, that he swam faster and faster.”
Jackson Bird, who swam a lifetime best 1:06.35 in the prelim, went on to win the final with an even faster of 1:05.96.
“I couldn’t be more happy or proud of that kid,” D’Amico said. “It was a super-special performance, and to see him come through in the clutch, track that guy down and out-touch him, and really just trust in his strategy, his technique and his tactics, and then to see it pay off was honestly a huge highlight of the meet, and even of the season.”
For the final event of the meet, the 400-yard freestyle relay, the boys team set a new school record in the prelims, besting the previous record they set at the home meet only a few weeks prior.
“In Seward they had set it at 3:28.93,” the coach said. “They are now at a 3:26.78. So they’ve taken off almost five seconds on the year for that school record.”
The team would go on to win the final with a time of 3:27.74, placing the Seahawks third in the state for the event, which D’Amico says gives them a fighting chance at the state championship podium.
“Being a school with about 120 kids, AA classification, and swimming being a non-classified sport, they are going to have to beat teams with school populations of 2,000, 2,200 kids, stuff like that,” he said. “I think it’s really impressive for them to perform at that level, given that we don’t have all the athletes, all the students that these other schools have. It’s just a concentrated talent pool.”
But talent without hard work can only get a swimmer so far, according to D’Amico.
“It’s not been given to them,” he said. “They’ve had to show up and do all the dirty work, where no one’s watching, wake up at 5:30, 6:00 in the morning. Hit the pool at 6:30 in the morning. Showing up in the early morning hours for weight trainings, signing on for advanced conditioning sessions.”
The Palmer meet marked the final outing of the season for Schoening and Trobaugh, both of whom will be unable to participate until next year due to scheduling conflicts. Regardless, Coach D’Amico said he couldn’t be prouder of their performance throughout the season.
“The two sophomores had great seasons,” D’Amico said. “While we’re sad they won’t be with us the rest of the way, we’re so grateful for everything they brought to the team this season. They both went out with lifetime bests in their final races, which were also their first finals.”
The Seahawks have enjoyed a week off to train for the region finals in Palmer. For relays, the champions from all four regions will then advance to state, along with the next four fastest times. For individuals, the region champions will also advance along with the next twelve fastest times. D’Amico noted the week will crucially be spent in taper, so as not to over-train.
“We’re going to try and get up to Palmer to practice in the pool that we compete in on Thursday and hopefully perform to our best abilities and be happy with the results, win or lose,” he said. “Because they’ve all put in a tremendous amount of work and learned a ton of information throughout the season. If they qualify for state, we’ll head up to state and have that one last week to taper, fine tune some things, minor technique adjustments, then hopefully put our best food forward at state, should we qualify. There’s no guarantee and these kids know it. You’ve got to earn it. It’s not going to be given to us, and we have adopted the mindset that we relish that.”
For an ongoing complete list of all meet results from throughout the season, visit swimcloud.com.