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Familiar face returns to coach Lakers

Long-time swim coach Karl von Tagen is back by popular demand.

Very few swim coaches in Oregon have a resume as extensive as von Tagen's. He has approximately 40 years of experience as a coach. That includes a 12-year stretch at Lakeridge - a period that was highlighted by a state championship in 1995.

Von Tagen also coached the Lake Oswego swim team for a year in the mid-1980s. And now, 21 years later, he's back at the helm for the Lakers.

It's not a move that von Tagen could have seen coming six months ago. However, because of the legal problems now facing former head coach Don King, the school had to scramble to find someone to take over the program.

So, Gene Schmidt, the aquatic director for the Lake Oswego School District pool, asked von Tagen to apply for the job. Because of the coach's earlier success in the district, it was almost a no-brainer to hire him for the position.

'It's not the best of circumstances,' von Tagen said of the situation he's found himself in. 'But the kids are great and they're really enthusiastic.'

Unfortunately, the new coach had smaller than expected turnout for this year's team. He did get 34 kids to report for the first day of practice. That would be an impressive number for most schools, but it's smaller than normal for Lake Oswego.

The Lakers might not have their biggest squad, but there's plenty of talent there.

The most notable members on the girls squad are the three returnees from last year's state championship medley relay team. That includes McKenzie Luick, whose specialty is the breaststroke. She won an individual title in that event as well.

As back from that relay team are Alex Farrar, a backstroke specialist, and Kelsey Rueppel, who excels in the butterfly. Von Tagen is still looking for someone to fill the freestyle leg on that relay.

He has a few girls to pick from for that spot, including Christina Turner and Gracie Hampton. Other key members of the team include Ann Barrington (a distance freestyler), Clarice Mottet (backstroke and individual medley) and Katie Van Hoomissen (backstroke and IM).

Many of the Lakers' top swimmers also compete for the Lake Oswego Swim Club. That normally wouldn't be a problem but it was on Tuesday when some of the Lakers' top girls were unable to compete and the team wound up suffering a rare dual-meet loss to Oregon City.

Fortunately, the LOSC and its coach, Coley Stickles, have a good working relationship with the local high schools, but they've been more willing than other clubs in the state to share their swimmers.

'Some high school coaches don't see the value of high school swimming, but Coley does,' von Tagen said.

The Lakers also will have a strong boys team. That contingent is led by Issac Hayden, Bryant Huang, Dean Stromme, Wayne Yang, Alex Lyons and Michael Sayer. Hayden and Huang will probably be the team's top freestyle swimmers; Yang will be in the backstroke, Lyons in the butterfly, Sayer in the breaststroke and Stromme has the versatility to compete wherever he's needed.

Once again, both Lakers teams will be contention for district titles, but they will have their hands full trying to hold off cross-town rival Lakeridge. The Pacers are loaded with talent and have already posted some impressive times for this early in the season.

Adding more intrigue to the rivalry is the fact that Lakeridge is coached by two of von Tagen's former pupils - Justin Lindsey and Robert Wilson. They were both members of that 1995 championship team, von Tagen thinks they're capable of doing it again - this time as coaches.

'If anybody is going to beat us, I'd like them to do it,' von Tagen said.