For so long in Idaho, high school swimming was the red-headed stepchild, pushed to the corner and rarely given attention.
The last few years brought change to that reputation. In 2017, the IHSAA sanctioned swimming, pushing the sport out of the realm of simply a club activity. Even with the shift, though, swimming in the Gate City was still treated as a quasi-club with Century, Highland and Pocatello competing as a singular team.
That quickly became a problem. After just three seasons with the one-umbrella model, the mega team had ballooned to 88 swimmers, forcing District 25 to split it up in 2020 and ensure Century, Highland and Pocatello had their own swimming team.
“I think it helped a ton,” said Highland coach Marcy Jordan. “I think each of the schools getting their own identity gave the athletes more commitment because they felt like – not that they weren’t swimming for their high school before because they were – but … there’s definitely more of a personalized feeling having the teams separated.
“And I think it’s been good because we have more swimmers now than we did two years ago.”
Century coach Peggy Kaiser called it “validation,” that after so long of the sport being an outcast in Idaho High Schools, it was being treated like every other program. When a high school swimmer went to state, they got a state hoodie just like every other athlete on campus did – a small gesture that feels much grander to those who wear one.
The odd part about the transition is it came in a year not friendly to transition. Because of COVID-19, Century only competed in three meets all season. Even odder, the district and state meets were mashed into one and decided virtually. Teams competed in an empty pool and sent their times to the state. By the time some swimmers learned they were state champions, they could have been watching TV on their couch.
Like many things last year, it wasn’t ideal – and it doesn’t seem like 2021 will bring swimming in the Gate City any closer to normalcy. For one, because of issues with the pool at Idaho State, Century, Pocatello and Highland have been swimming at the Ross Park pool but will transition to the community rec center at the end of the month.
“This year doesn’t seem like it will be any less weird than last year,” said Pocatello coach Karen Holmstead. “I kind of feel like we’re just hanging on, trying to come together as a team.”
With the season underway, here’s a quick breakdown of the three city schools:
After losing a number of pieces to graduation, Highland enters 2021 with a trio of swimmers with a good chance to make state.
In trying to return a boys relay team to state, the Rams will rely heavily on senior Logan Rasmussen, who also has a chance to place at districts individually.
“He’s just doing tremendous,” Jordan said.
On the girls side, Aliya Jordan is a three-time district champion in the 50 freestyle and is expected to earn a fourth state bid this season. Also, junior Ruby Jordan is another favorite to make state in the 100-meter butterfly.
The Diamondbacks return a boatload of swimmers who placed at the virtual state meet in 2020.
On the girls’ team, Eloise Sandy finished fifth in the 50 free and ninth in the 100 free. Ava Patterson placed eighth in the 50 free. And Kendra Broberg was 12th in the 50 free. Adding to that group this year is junior Brenna Patterson, who has looked strong in the 100 fly and 200 individual medley.
The Diamondbacks also return a trio of boys who helped Century place third in both the 200 and 400 freestyle relays.
Now a senior, JD Heberlein finished fifth in both the 200 free and 100 breaststroke. Spencer Willey was No. 11 in the 100 free. And John Kaiser earned a bronze in the 100 backstroke. Taking the role of the fourth man on the relay is Cameron Jeppsen.
“We have hopes to be placing high,” said Peggy Kaiser. “And that’s kind of the goal for some of these kids who swim year round. Like you want to be on the podium.”
After finishing the season with just about a dozen swimmers last season, Pocatello’s roster has jumped to 26 kids. With so many newcomers, it’s hard to pin down yet if the Thunder has anyone who may be able to earn a spot on the district’s podium or make state.
“We have a couple of swimmers who are getting better, getting stronger and who have done it long enough,” Holmstead said. “We have zero year-round swimmers. We’re definitely very young. We may have some athletes at the end of this season decide they want to swim year-round.