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BRAD FUQUA, PHILOMATH EXPRESS

It's not uncommon for Philomath High's swimmers to identify camaraderie among teammates as one of the sport's main attractions. Most swimmers, especially the experienced ones who have been through a season, also enjoy the thrill of competition come the day of a meet.

Jensen Davis, who refocuses his attention this time of year from the cross-country course to the pool, called both of those aspects of swimming his favorite as he prepares for a final season as a senior.

"The actual workout part really isn't that awesome. It's you looking at the bottom of the pool, drinking a bunch of pool water and yeah, swimming isn't awesome itself in a sense," Davis said in an honest moment. "But I really like meets. I like competing and we do a bunch of team activities, those are really fun, and just the whole team atmosphere."

Marissa Eng, a former PHS and Oregon State swimmer who’s entering her sixth year as Warriors head coach, has 30 swimmers on the squad this season, which she calls a comfortable number. Captains, who were voted on at the end of last season, are Davis and Miriam Coskey, both seniors, along with juniors Tristan Pindell and Amity Coon.

Coskey admits that she usually gets off to a slow start. She doesn't compete in club swimming like some of the others and said she uses different muscles playing soccer.

The rhythmic technique of the breaststroke makes it her favorite.

"You kinda get a relaxing feeling because you ride the power from the stroke and then you get to go again," Coskey said. "Freestyle is continuous so the breaststroke is a little bit, not easier, but more comfortable."

Coskey said her biggest challenges involve the little things.

"We have to try to focus on breathing with only one goggle out of the water and that's kinda hard for me," she said. "It's so weird not being able to breath all the time, so that's probably one of my biggest things, and just getting over the hump of getting in shape and everything goes easier from there."

Eng said the team has looked good in preseason workouts.

"We have a smaller team, but we have a lot of really strong returning swimmers and our freshmen group has given the upperclassmen and the experienced swimmers a run for their money," Eng said Thursday following practice.

Eng and her swimmers are beginning to feel the benefits of local club swimming. Eng has been coaching the Corvallis Aquatic Club's Clemens squad for the past 3-1/2 years now and many of those in this season's freshman group have been in the program.

"It's kinda nice to see that pay off," Eng said about could be called a feeder program. "It's definitely helping the team, having more kids coming in as freshmen knowing how to swim."

Junior James Dye returns to the program after placing third in the 100 butterfly and fourth in the 200 freestyle at last year's state meet. Several others got state experience on relays last season, including Davis.

"I'm feeling really good so far," Davis said. "I picked it back up faster than I thought I would personally and the team is also a lot better sooner this year than it was last year."

Davis sees plenty of variety in his events, including the 100 backstroke, 500 freestyle and sometimes the 200 individual medley, along with all three relays.

"Unlike cross-country, this for me and pretty much the whole team is a sprint team," Davis said. "The 500 is the only real distance event that we have and so I guess it's hard to get faster at every meet because all the times are so close, they're all sprints."

Besides the 100-yard breaststroke, Coskey also appears periodically in the 50 and 100 freestyle and on relays.

"I think it's a very individual sport, but we're a pretty close team," Coskey said. "In soccer and other sports, everybody can notice when you mess up, but if you mess up (in swimming), it doesn't really matter. It's like you're the only competitor really. You can just put everything in the pool and if you have a bad day, it just goes into the water and you can swim it off."

Philomath opens the season Thursday with the Rhonda Relays, an event that Eng renamed in honor of longtime swim coach Rhonda Flatz Stouder, who retired in 2012.

"It's really a fun meet; it's a great way to get everybody's feet wet and to experience a swim meet," Eng said. "But it's a different version of a swim meet and I get four splits from each person. ... It's a great way to start the season."

The Oregon School Activities Association actually allowed high school swim teams to begin competing last week, but Eng likes to have a little extra time with preseason before diving into the pool. With the Rhonda Relays, for example, more experienced swimmers are often paired up with younger athletes so they can learn the little things, whether it's technique or just being in a meet atmosphere.

As for the rest of the schedule, there are no significant changes from past years other than more appearances at Clemens Community Pool.

"I think we're doing more home meets this year, which is great," Eng said. "We have a little bit more control with how the pace of the meet goes and just getting kids to bed early and avoiding sickness. Sickness always seems to hit us in January just before districts, so we're trying to do something a little different to try to avoid that and set us up in the best way possible."

As for goals, both Davis and Coskey want to reach state as one might expect. For Coskey, she competed at state as a sophomore and qualified as a junior, but didn't go last season because her sister's wedding in Hawaii fell on the same day. Davis is striving to make it in both individual and relay events.

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