NORTH BEND — Looking ahead to this week’s Midwestern League district swim meet, North Bend senior Divenson Willis came up with a football analogy — somewhat fitting since Willis signed a letter of intent to play football for Linfield last week.
In this instance, though, he was talking about the three relays, which likely will be determining factors as North Bend pursues both the boys and girls titles this week in what should be close team races at Willamalane Pool in Springfield on Friday and Saturday.
“I think the best part (of the sport) is the relays,” Willis said. “If the team race is close, the energy is great. It’s like football on Friday nights if you’re playing a good team. You have a better performance.”
Willis and fellow senior leaders Craig Hoefs and Adam Wood will have a key role in the relays, which are vital in the meet because they are worth double the points.
“If you are able to have that chemistry to work through it, that’s super good,” Wood said of the teamwork that goes into the relays. “It’s from being used to each other in the pool.”
North Bend is strong in all three relays, including the meet-opening medley relay with the quartet of Hoefs, Mavrick Macalino, Tucker Hood and Zach Holt; the meet-closing 400-yard freestyle relay with Hoefs, Wood, Macalino and Holt; and the 200 freestyle relay with Wood, Tucker and Henry Hood and Willis.
Hoefs, who might be North Bend’s top individual and will be trying to break his own school record in the breaststroke at district and/or the state meet next week, loves the relays.
“I’m probably more excited about the relays,” he said. “It’s the last time I’m going to be able to do the relays with these guys. I don’t get to do relays in club swimming.”
North Bend’s boys have a strong shot at the district title because they have multiple individuals seeded near the top in several events.
Based on entry times, Holt is the top seed in the individual medley and is seeded third in the breaststroke, while Hoefs is seeded second in the breaststroke and third in the individual medley. Macalino, who set a new school record in the butterfly earlier this winter, is seeded second in that event and third in the 50 freestyle. Wood is seeded third in the 200 freestyle and fourth in the 100 freestyle. Willis is third in the 100 freestyle and fifth in the 50 freestyle. Tucker Hood is seeded second in the 500 freestyle and fourth in the butterfly.
North Bend’s depth comes into play because a total of 16 swimmers score in each individual event and teams can enter up to four swimmers per event.
North Bend’s girls figure to have a challenge keeping up with a deep Springfield squad, and are led by stellar juniors Bella Jones and Natalie Cheal.
Jones is the top seed in the 200 freestyle, where North Bend also has the next two seeds in Makenna Roberts and Angie Allman, and is also seeded third in the butterfly.
Cheal is the top seed in the individual medley and is seeded second in the butterfly.
Roberts is the top seed in the 500 freestyle, where Rebecca Witharm is seeded fourth.
North Bend’s girls also are strong in the relays, especially the medley and 400 freestyle events.
North Bend coach Bruce Rasmussen said he hopes the meet comes down to the last race and the Bulldogs come away the winners.
“If we can win both the 400 free relays, I like doing that,” he said.
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In addition to pursuing the team district titles, North Bend is hoping to qualify as many swimmers as possible for next weekend’s Class 5A state meet.
Rasmussen said he is not focusing at all on stroke technique this week, but is working with the swimmers on other elements of their races.
“I’m talking to the kids about starts, turns and underwater (skills),” he said. “That’s where you can make up time.”
The three seniors have been swimming for years, leading to their final district meet.
Hoefs started as a youth swimmer, though he took a little time off to try football, cross country, basketball and wrestling before having his excitement for the sport regenerated when he got to high school.
Willis was a youth swimmer in Roseburg and joined right away in North Bend, though he gave wrestling a try last year.
“We got him back this year,” said Wood, who is by comparison the newest of the swimmers, having been recruited to the team by Mitchell Yost as a freshman when his only other sport was soccer.
“I started swimming with board shorts and no goggles,” he recalled. “It’s come a long way. It’s been a good run.”
Rasmussen looks at Hoefs as the swimmer with perhaps the brightest future on the team after high school.
“He’s got really the perfect swimmer’s body and he’s been swimming for years, so he’s savvy,” Rasmussen said. “And he’s a good leader for the team.”
Though Willis missed Rasmussen’s first year as coach last winter, he was ecstatic to get the senior back this season.
“Divenson is a freak of nature,” he said of the muscular swimmer. “Look at him.”
Even though he started last, Wood has developed into a team leader, Rasmussen said.
“Adam was a unanimous choice for captain this year,” the coach said. “Adam is just a really nice kid, kind and considerate.”
Rasmussen asked both Wood and Hoefs to mentor some of the younger swimmers on everything from technique to how to mentally prepare for a race.
“We’re trying to get them as ready as possible for the week,” Wood said, adding that the team has prepared well.
“Everybody has been working real hard,” he said. “I think district is our time to shine.”