SALT LAKE CITY — The 2014 high school state swimming meets get underway Thursday afternoon. Because of realignment, this year's competitions promise to be even more competitive and intriguing.
In 4A, the landscape significantly expanded during the offseason, and the president of the Utah Swimming Coaches Association, Skyline coach Joe Pereira, knows just how difficult and competitive this year’s 4A class is.
“The sliding and shifting of teams with realignment makes it hard to know how this thing will play out,” Pereira said. “4A just became huge. There is going to be a battle among 4A teams, as there always is.”
In the 4A girls team competition, defending champion Skyline, 2013 runner-up Mountain Crest and third-place finisher Highland all returned strong teams and have had successful seasons.
The same is true for Wasatch and Judge Memorial, who finished first and second in 3A a year ago and were both thrown into the 4A mix. Add in the Kearns Cougars, who placed eighth in 5A last season and have traditionally had strong swimmers, and 4A suddenly became that much more interesting.
The boys team competition in 4A follows a very similar script, with a cluster of talented teams highlighted by Mountain Crest, Springville and Skyline, the top three 4A finishers in 2013, and the addition of 3A defending champion Wasatch as well as 5A fifth-place finisher Kearns.
“Kearns is going to disrupt some things,” Pereira said. “They might not have the numbers to win state, but they will have enough to make a difference for someone else. They will have kids doing well and scoring points in races that impacts the final results.”
Along with losing some powerhouses to 4A, the 3A classification also lost some of its smaller schools due to the expansion of the state competition. For the first time, 2A will hold its own state meet, a slightly smaller one-day event that will take place in between the diving state meet and the opening session of 4A.
“Adding the new division with 2A will be unique this year. It will add another fun dimension," said Pereira.
The new swimming classification has representation all across 2A, including a handful of schools that have been competing in the 3A state meet in recent years. Fifteen total teams from private, public and charter schools will compete in the new division this year.
Above 2A, the move by Wasatch into 4A has given Park City the opportunity to take its place atop all of 3A. A year ago, the Miners placed second and third in the girls and boys team competitions, respectively, and will look to improve those results this weekend.
“Park City has made a huge jump forward this year,” said Pereira. “They have been beating up on everybody so far this year.”
Desert Hills, which placed third in boys and fourth in girls, and Juan Diego will also look to stir things up in the 3A competition.
As far as 5A goes, some things never change, and 5A powerhouses Brighton and Bingham will look to continue their successful runs this weekend.
The Bengals swept the 5A titles last season, while the Miners placed second in the girls competition and ninth in the boys competition.
“It is still a battle between Brighton and Bingham,” Pereira said.
In their first season of competition, the Corner Canyon Chargers will also look to have some success in their first taste of the 4A state meet.
With regard to individual performances, the girls side is flooded with talented swimmers.
“Probably the No. 1 kid, the one who has really risen up so far, is probably Hailey Pabst,” said Pereira.
Pabst is an extremely talented senior from Mountain Crest, who has already committed to swim for the University of Utah next year. She is the current 4A record-holder in the 200-yard freestyle (1:51.33) and 500 free (5:02.96). Pabst set both records as a sophomore and is also a defending state champ in the 50 free (23.74) and 100 free (52.80).
Joining Pabst among the top girls swimmers in 4A are Amelia Wolfgram, a senior from West, and Lillian Moore, a senior from Skyline. Both have claimed individual titles, broken records, and have committed to join the swim program at BYU next fall.
Desert Hills senior Amelia Draney will be an important part of the Thunder's success once again. She has already set 3A records during her career at Desert Hills, and has officially committed to swim at Boise State University next year.
In the boys competition, Springville junior Connor Anderson stands out above the rest of the field.
“The boys haven’t really shown just what they can do,” Pereira said. “There is talent, but they are not nearly as talented as the girls.”
At state last year, Anderson took home the gold in the 500 free (4:37.11) and came in second place in the 200 free (1:41.59). He was also the anchor leg of Springville's second-place 200-free relay team (1:28.97) and finished third in the 400-free relay with a time of 3:15.15.
The high school state swimming meets begin Thursday afternoon at Brigham Young University, starting with the 2A and 4A meets.
Ryan Love is a full-time student at the University of Utah studying communications, and has been a part-time sports reporter and scoreboarder for the Deseret News since Oct. 2012.
Follow him on Twitter @RLove7724