A year ago, a runner-up finish at district helped propel Crescent Valley's girls swim team to the 5A title.
“We had a bad taste in our mouth from the district meet,” coach Rex Watkins said. “We went into the finals and we were ready to kill. The girls said, 'We're coming out of here on top.'”
This year, Watkins is counting on the Raiders tapping into that same pride and determination to challenge for another championship.
“Oh, they have it,” Watkins said. “They've been talking about it. We have it in us.”
Powered by seniors Francesca Criscione and Paula Lomonaco – who each won two events in the state meet last year – Crescent Valley is in position to win its second title in a row since a five-year run at the top from 2007 to 2011.
The Raiders started the season talking about becoming the first 5A team to score 100 points at state, not counting contributions from para swimmers. But after sensing that goal may be a tad lofty, they are working on sorting out a lineup that will allow them to outpace contenders such as Churchill and Silverton.
“We're still developing our plan,” Watkins said. “I tell the kids we have to maintain some flexibility about what we have to do for the team. We're trying to split some kids up a little bit, create other opportunities. We always have our eyes on the prize.”
That could even mean some changes for Criscione and Lomonaco.
Criscione could go for repeat titles in the 100-yard butterfly and 500 freestyle, but the 200 freestyle, 200 individual medley and 100 breaststroke also are possibilities. Lomonaco won the 100 and 200 freestyle last year but could end up in the 50 or 500 freestyle.
Criscione already has clocked 57.5 in the 100 butterfly this season, faster than her state-winning time of 57.98. She is looking to finish her high school career strong after missing the state meet as a freshman due to injury and not swimming on the team as a sophomore.
“She's only been to state once before, and she's so excited about it,” Watkins said of Criscione, who has committed to Northern Arizona. “She can't wait to get back.”
Lomonaco focused on the 50 freestyle as a freshman and sophomore, finishing third and fifth, respectively, at the state meet, before dominating the field in the 100 and 200 freestyle at state last year.
“Her competitors were like, 'Wow, where did that come from?'” Watkins said. “She told me later, 'I don't know, it just happened.'
“She was struggling with the 50 free her freshman and sophomore year. She could swim the 500, but she's so powerful in the 100 and 200. She'll probably swim those. We could have her in the 50, but it's a frustrating race for her.”
Lomonaco and Criscione are effective in many of the same events, so it will be a matter of finding a way to optimize their performances for the team. Another factor is the addition of freshman Viviana Criscione, who already has a 100 breaststroke time that would be top three at state and has a lifetime best of 5:10 in the 500 freestyle, which would have placed her second at state last year.
“Vivi's a bundle of energy,” Watkins said. “I've got three girls who could win the 500 freestyle. I don't want to be doubling them up or tripling them up, because that doesn't help us. We want to spread them somehow.”
Junior Lauren Cordier, who finished sixth in the 100 breaststroke at state last year, and junior Nova Evans, who already has recorded a 200 freestyle time good enough to place fifth in last year's state meet, also are key to the Raiders' championship chances.
Watkins said he is wary of Silverton, which beat Crescent Valley in a Mid-Willamette Conference dual meet this season, and Churchill, a team on the rise after placing fourth at state.
“I've been warned about Churchill by other coaches,” Watkins said. “And I think Silverton's going to surprise some people. They've been coming on strong.”
Photos of state championship events are available online from Northwest Sports Photography at 4nsp.com