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Hilltoppers have talent, depth on their 2007 squad

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By Mike Cote

There isn’t much of a hidden agenda around the Los Alamos Hilltopper swimming and diving team’s early season practices.High yardage and intensity for the purpose of building stamina is what it’s all about.Members of the boys and girls team for Los Alamos may not like it now, but ’Topper head coach Bev Leasure knows they’ll need all the stamina they can get as they shoot for state titles.Los Alamos started practice Nov. 5 and has been hitting the Larry R. Walkup Aquatic Center pool hard from the get-go in preparation for its season opener Saturday. The teams will take part in the Peter Barney Relays at Albuquerque Academy’s Natatorium.Leasure has plenty of reason to be optimistic, as more than a few of her swimmers are already at or near state qualifying times in several events. And the earlier those swimmers knock those out, the happier she’ll be.Plus, the numbers coming out this season are good, and will get even better as fall sports participants filter in.“Right now we’ve got a lot of depth,” she said. “We have more guys swimming right now than we’ve had in the last couple of years.”In 2006, the Hilltopper girls finished fourth place at the state meet, and the Hilltopper boys were eighth overall.Leasure, however, thinks both her teams are going to improve on those finishes in 2007. Because of the added depth, the ’Topper boys are in good shape for a top-five finish, and the ’Topper girls could well vie for a state title.Many of the same cast will probably be in contention for the coveted blue trophy this season, such as La Cueva, Rio Rancho, Las Cruces and, of course, Albuquerque Academy.Los Alamos will get an early look at Academy’s Chargers who have won two straight and seven of the last nine boys state titles — Los Alamos won in both 2004 and 2005 — and three straight girls titles.Leasure said that while she wouldn’t mind at all taking Saturday’s team title, team finishes are hardly foremost on her mind.“I’m not after winning every time out,” Leasure said. “I’m worried about getting kids qualified.”Teams can qualify swimmers at Saturday’s Barney Relays, even though each event, including the diving event, is run as a relay.Leasure probably won’t have to wait long for many of her swimmers. Among those on the girls side, senior Kara Leasure took third at state in the 200-yard individual medley and has already been swimming below the qualifying time in preseason.For the boys, freshman distance swimmer Dylan Lake, who had an outstanding eighth grade season, is picking up right where he left off. Lake qualified for state last season in the 500 freestyle and should earn a spot in that same event early on.The Hilltoppers got something of a boon in the offseason when the New Mexico Activities Association changed its rules about the admittance of home-school athletes. Because of the rule change, a pair of standout club swimmers — Natalia Moore and Lydia Wermer — will join the Hilltoppers this season. Leasure said both should make significant contributions to the girls team in 2007.Los Alamos will open its home season Nov. 30-Dec. 1 with the Los Alamos Open, and will host two other home events in 2007.Everyone around the team is excited to get the season going, most of all Leasure.“I’m very pleased with the kids who came out and how they’re training,” she said. “We have more depth. Everyone looks really good.”