Babette Romancier has been open and honest with her team in preparation for the Greater Valley Conference swimming championships.
The conventional wisdom suggests that West Albany High, South Salem and West Salem are equal contenders in the race for the girls title. After all, the trio went 1-1 against each other in GVC regular-season duals.
But Romancier, West Albany’s head coach, isn’t buying that narrative.
“I see South Salem as the team to beat,” Romancier said. “Of course I talk it up to the kids and we always say that anything is possible, but I am also realistic with them about where we stand.”
The two-day, nine-team GVC championships begin Friday and conclude Saturday in McMinnville. The winner of each individual and relay event automatically qualifies for the 6A state championships, held Feb. 16-17 at Mt. Hood Community College in Gresham.
The West Albany girls placed second behind West Salem at last year’s district meet. While standout competitors Bailey Dickerson and Eve Vetter are back, the Bulldogs are thin and relatively inexperienced throughout their lineup.
“We are going to have some work to do,” Romancier said. “We have a lot of girls, but we aren’t as deep as we used to be. I have four senior girls and that’s it, so there’s a lot of growth needed from my freshmen and sophomores. Hopefully they will step it up.”
The Bulldogs defeated West Salem 85-75 on Jan. 5 before dropping an 88-82 decision to the Saxons two weeks later. The Titans won a dual with South Salem back in December.
Dickerson, a junior, is the top seed in the 50-yard freestyle (25.02 seconds) and 100 backstroke (58.0). Vetter, West Albany’s top senior, is seeded second in the 200 IM (2:16.38) and third in the 100 butterfly (1:00.39).
A season ago, Vetter and Dickerson swam legs on the Bulldogs’ 200 medley relay team that won in a district meet record time of 1:52.64. With Emily Harding and Zane Van Horsen lost to graduation, West Albany is the No. 2 seed in the medley relay behind Forest Grove.
Bulldogs freshman Natalie Baas is seeded second in the 100 breaststroke (1:11.6) and fourth in the 200 IM (2:24.65). Senior Tess Irwin is seventh in the 200 IM (2:26.43) and ninth in the 100 fly (1:08.45).
“We usually do well in (the 200 IM),” Romancier said. “I train kids on all four strokes, and it shows in that event all the time.”
Fellow freshman Allie Bates is seeded sixth in the 100 breast (1:15.45) and 12th in the 500 free (6:01.54). Sophomore Taylor Kelley is sixth in the 50 free (26.85) and eighth in the 100 free (59.63).
On the boys side, West Albany is looking to improve on last year’s fifth-place team finish.
Junior Kieran Van Horsen is the No. 2 seed in the 100 free (50.93) and 200 free (1:53.6). Fellow junior Braxton Reece is seeded second in the 100 fly (56.54) and fourth in the 200 IM (2:10.34) while Eric Formiller, a sophomore, is the No. 3 seed in the 50 free (23.2) and the 100 back (1:00.49).
The remainder of West Albany’s boys team is light on district experience.
“Do they get scared, or do they get their game faces on and race?,” Romancier said of the underclassmen. “We are excited and we work hard to make sure they know it’s just another meet, but we mark this as the goal all season. The ones that have really put in the work, you hope to see them blossom.”
South Albany and Lebanon will be in action at the Mid-Willamette Conference championships, which also run Friday and Saturday.
The two-day meet will be held at Osborn Aquatic Center in Corvallis with each first-place individual and relay team automatically qualifying for next weekend’s 5A state championships.
A season ago, Casey McEuen led the Lebanon boys to the district team title while Crescent Valley won the girls meet.
The Special District 2 championships run Friday and Saturday at Albany Community Pool.
Sweet Home swept the boys and girls meets last year and went on to claim both team titles at state.
Just like 6A and 5A, each event winner automatically qualifies for state.