It’s been nearly a decade since a swimming team other than the Dimond High Lynx captured an Alaska state championship.
The Lynx have had multiple graduating classes that have never known what it’s like to even lose a dual throughout their high school careers because they have been undefeated in regular season competition as well.
Scott O’Brien has been the head coach at Dimond since the 1994-95 season, with a gap between 1998-2002 when he coached at the University of Alaska Anchorage before returning to coach at the high school for the Lynx.
Dating back to 2012, the girls team has finished either first or second at the state championships and have won six straight titles, excluding the COVID-19 year in 2020 when no state meet was held.
“It’s them, it’s not me,” O’Brien said about the girl’s current undefeated and title streak. “No one wants to be the first one to lose so it’s kind of built the tradition that everyone just keeps feeding on it because everyone wants to keep the rock rolling down the street.”
He said each group during this impressive run have been feverishly determined to not be the one that snaps the streak and that is part of what drives them year in and year out.
The defending state champion girls team is undefeated in dual meets so far this season with an unblemished 3-0 record.
The girls are powered by a core four that makes up their relay teams in seniors Hannah Boyce and Isabelle Borke, along with juniors Leena Edais and Caroline Waters.
“I think the season has been going really good for us and I’m really excited to see how we do together as a team at state and regions,” Waters said.
Dimond dominated the relay events at last year’s state tournament, winning the 200-medley, 200-freestyle and 400-freestyle races. This group aims to uphold the standard of excellence that has been in place since before they were in middle school and that most of them have played a part in extending.
“We all get along so well but we’re also reminded daily that we need to keep up with that winning streak and we don’t want to be the year to lose it,” Waters said. “It’s a balance of having fun but also knowing that you need to put in the work because we have that behind us.”
As teammates, they are also competing against each other on a daily basis knowing that the state’s best competition likely resides on their own roster.
“Everybody on Dimond is the best of the best so we get to race against the top competitors on our team so we get a challenge,” Borke said.
“I think it just pushes us to be better and better each year,” Boyce said. “We’ve all been racing each other for years now. Someone is better in one event and someone is better than the other so we all push each other to be faster.”
She described their dynamic as “friendly competitive” because they want “everyone to be their best.”
“They’re fun-loving, they have a good time, but when it’s time to work, it’s time to work,” O’Brien said.
O’Brien has known all of them since they were in elementary school because he is also their club swim team coach.
“You learn over the years what motivates each kid,” he said. “Some kids you have to put your arm around and say ‘Hey you can do it’, some kids you’ve got to (motivate to) get in gear and get going.”
Three of the members of the ‘core four’ placed at last year’s state finals with Edais being the lone exception after she qualified for state but didn’t place.
“They’ve kind of taken her under their wings and are going to try to get her to be that fourth body to replace some of the kids that graduated last year,” O’Brien said.
The Lynx lost some of their top swimmers to graduation this past spring but are excited for the opportunity that it creates for the likes of Edais and others to step up and shine.
Dreamer Kowatch is one prime example of a senior from last year’s team that left a hole now that she is competing at the collegiate level at Division I New Mexico State University.
“It’s a huge loss because of the leadership and flexibility with relays, but it’s a great opportunity for the Leenas and the Paulas (Morales) and the Paiges (Antrobus),” O’Brien said. “They got to swim with Dreamer in club so they saw her work ethic.”
Friends out of water
The members of the ‘core four’ spend more time together outside the water building up camaraderie and getting closer as friends than they do sharpening their skills in the pool.
The group members share a similar sense of humor and enjoy doing fun activities such as yoga, working out at the gym, going on hikes, cooking meals, and going on picnics.
They study together and some of them have the same classes as well and get together for weight sessions.
“We do team parties where we get together and eat after the Friday meets,” Boyce said. “We just eat food and hang out and everyone bonds and talks about races and about stuff outside of swimming.”
When they have their group dinners, whoever hosts is responsible for the main dish but they all pitch in by bringing beverages and sides.
O’Brien believes that their chemistry and friendship outside of the sport is directly correlated to their success in the pool.
“That’s one of the most important things. They want to do it for each other,” he said. “They’re not doing it for me. No one wants to be the person who lets one of the other three down.”
Boys team is still stout despite shallow depth
Over the last 15 years dating back to 2007, the boys team has finished first or second at state excluding the 2020 season. During that time, they had a stretch from 2009-2015 where they won seven straight titles and have been the runner-ups in each year since 2016.
While he admits that this year’s boys team isn’t as deep as it’s been in year’s past, O’Brien still believes that it has “a lot of top qualities” and they are undefeated with a 3-0 record as well.
“We have the returning state champion in the 50 (freestyle) in (Andrew Billings), we’ve got Will (McKinley) who was in the top four of two events last year so we have a good group of guys returning,” O’Brien said. “We’ve just lost a little bit of the depth after graduating quite a few seniors last year.”