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Mahers help lead the way in Class 5A prelimary competition at Tualatin Hills Aquatic Center

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: MILES VANCE - St. Helens' Ryan Maher competes in the boys 100-yard butterfly preliminaries at the Class 5A swim meet at Tualatin Hills Aquaic Center.

The best is yet to come for both the St. Helens boys and girls swimming teams.

With a highly motivated head coach in Chelsie Orr at the helm and a stable of young Class 5A state championship qualifiersca, be on the lookout for the Lions come next season.

Neither the boys or girls finished with a state placer at the 5A state championship meet on Feb. 16 at Tualatin Hills Aquatic Center and therefore didn't have a state meet point. But there were plenty of state qualifiers who competed in the preliminaries and plenty of positive indicators about what's on the near horizon.

The boys' 200-yard medley team of sophomores Nick Brooks, Jake and Ryan Maher and junior Cooper Montgomery swam a 1:48.98, which was the 10th best time in 5A. Ryan Maher came within milliseconds of making the 'A' final in the 100-yard butterfly, swimming a 55.57 for the eighth best time in 5A. The Lion sophomore broke a school record in the butterfly this season. Jake Maher swam a 1:04.15 in the 100 breaststroke, the best time amongst all Northwest Oregon Conference state qualifiers.

The Maher twins swim on the competitive club scene during the high school offseason and train year-round for the sport they love. Each is a modest, humble star who attends the Lions' team practices despite their club obligations and don't let success go to their heads, according to Orr. The Mahers, Brooks and Montgomery are slated to return next season, making up a foursome that can compete on all three of the relays and can more than hold their own in the individual events. It's a solid nucleus to build around, one that's versatile and talented enough to take St. Helens up the district ranks.

On the girls' side, senior Olive Owens closed out her St. Helens' tenure with a 2:12 finish in the 200 free, which was the 12th best time in 5A. It was Owens' second straight appearance at state after qualifying as a junior in the 100 free. Freshman Molly Wheeldon, affectionately called 'The Next Olive Owens' by Orr and her staff, swam a 1:04.59 in the 100 free in her first ever state meet showing. That time was 12th best at the 5A level.

The state meet experience is an invaluable tool for any swimmer to immerse themselves in. Where to warm up, when to walk into the arena, where to cool down, where to wait for your name and event to be called are little logistical things that can be unsettling for a first-time state qualifier, especially at a place like THAC. On top of that, the cream of the crop competition is wildly fierce. Making an 'A' final puts swimmers in a certain upper echelon so the preliminary heats can be surprisingly cutthroat. Then nerves and performance anxiety need to be dealt with. It's all part of the state protocol, one the Mahers and Wheeldon are getting more and more accustomed to. Come next year, they'll be well-versed and well acquainted with the state meet ropes, if you will.

Junior Maggie Wheeldon, Molly's older sister, will help head a girls' program that enjoyed exponential growth this season. Of the 40 swimmers on the roster, 22 were brand new to the sport, a huge recruiting haul for Orr and the athletes who pounded the pavement, pitching potential suitors on a sport that's sprouting in interest in St. Helens. Team captains for next year will soon be announced. They'll be entrusted with helping spin the Lions' missive of positivity, sportsmanship and fun into the 2019-20 campaign, where a top-three finish in the NWOC and hopefully a few state placers await.

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: MILES VANCE - Senior Olive Owens of St. Helens speeds through the 200-yard freestyle during the state meet.

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