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Cold water to heat up
A strong group of sophomores and Central senior Hannah Kinder should provide the highlights for the first winter season for high school girls swimming.
Just as the boys made their fall debut this past season after being a winter sport, the girls swimming season moved from the spring to winter. Unlike the boys, switching seasons has had few ill effects on the area girls programs.
Central will open the area season today with a home meet against second-year program St. Vincent. Notre Dame will kick off its season Friday at the University City Relays.
Central coach Dayna Powell said she is ready to get the season going.
"I think we need a meet," Powell said. "I think everyone needs to see where they are at, and then we can form our goals between now and Christmas."
Kinder headlines the group of returning swimmers, finishing second in the both the 50- and 100-yard freestyle events at the state meet last season. As a sophomore, Kinder finished third in both events. Those performances, along with her impressive results at national meets during the offseason, helped Kinder earn an athletic scholarship to Texas A&M and should make her one of the favorites for a state title.
"Hannah definitely won't be the only fast person out there -- she'll be in good company, but she'll be one of the fastest," Powell said. "She'll definitely have a huge impact on our relays, and her individual events. We look forward to that."
Sophomores Jessie Baker and Annie Wolpers both competed at the state meet last year in relay events, as did junior Katie Bowles. Also returning is senior Betsy Schroeder, a four-year swimmer for the Tigers.
The season change has brought out several new swimmers for the Tigers, including several track athletes. Junior diver Brittney Thomas is among those newcomers who could make an impact.
"She is already looking really good on the diving board," Powell said. "That's one thing the season's helped, picking up people like Brittney we hadn't before."
Notre Dame is led by sophomore Brittany Menz, who also competed in the 50 and 100 freestyle events at the state meet last year. Bulldogs junior Ashley Nenninger also swam at the state meet last year in the relays. Menz and Nenninger were the lone relay members to return from last year's three state-qualifying relay teams.
Sophomores Jenny Brant and Rachel Henson went to the state meet as alternates for Notre Dame last season, and senior diver Emily Huber also returns. Notre Dame also has several freshmen who swim year round.
"Brittney's very strong, Ashley Nenninger's back, and there are some freshmen looking pretty good that might be somebody to contend with," Notre Dame coach Lenny Kuper said.
The Bulldogs have 26 girls out, one of the highest totals in the program's history. That is a far cry from the boys season, when the Bulldogs had 10 swimmers on the roster.
"Numbers can win meets," Kuper said. "Quite often, with a smaller team, we had to give up some events or put less in them."
The number gains Notre Dame has seen are likely to be a statewide trend. Switching from the spring season -- which also has soccer and track and field -- to winter, where basketball is the chief competition, should bode well for girls swimming.
"I think across the state, you'll see a stronger girls season," Kuper said. "I think we'll be meeting lots of teams that are stronger."
Another big difference between the boys and girls moves is the presence of a Show Me Conference meet for the girls. Poplar Bluff's boys team folded in the fall, causing the cancellation of the conference meet. With both Poplar Bluff and St. Vincent back this year in girls swimming, four teams will compete in the February conference meet.
"We really missed the conference with the boys," Kuper said. "It was disappointing not to have one."
While St. Vincent will be back for the program's second year, Saxony Lutheran will not compete this season. Saxony standout swimmer Emily Younghouse graduated after qualifying for the state meet last season, and the rest of the squad was made up of athletes who also play basketball, which the school is offering as a varsity program for the first time this winter.