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Swimming and Diving: LA teams prep for state meet

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By Mike Cote

When bagel flavor is the hot topic of discussion before practice, it’s safe to assume the mood around the Hilltopper boys swim team is loose.Los Alamos’ boys and girls teams will head to the state championship meet for preliminary competition Friday. Finals will be held Saturday at the Albuquerque Academy Natatorium.Prior to Tuesday’s workout at the Larry R. Walkup Aquatic Center, the boys were putting in bagel orders and plain bagels with cream cheese were the unanimous choice until Micah Putnam put his cinnamon bagel order in, ushering in a loud groan from his teammates.The Hilltopper boys aren’t feeling much pressure heading into the meet. They are not expected to challenge for a state title this season, and as such, don’t have a lot of nerves setting in.“I’d probably look at fifth place or better if we all do good,” Los Alamos’ Alex Baker said. “But I’m not going to hold my breath for it.”For the Hilltopper girls, however, expectations are higher. They are among the top three schools in the state, along with favorite La Cueva and perennial contender Albuquerque Academy.After cutting back yardage from upwards of 7,000 a day down to about 2,500 a day this week, Los Alamos is feeling rejuvenated and ready to have a big meet.“The team is really strong,” Los Alamos’ Natalia Moore said before her workout Tuesday. “We’ll be able to do really well at state.”The Hilltoppers fell in head-to-head competition with La Cueva’s Bears at the Albuquerque Public Schools meet Dec. 22, 122-102.5. Because the Bears have a large and strong contingent, the Hilltoppers will hope to catch them on one of the relay events.“Their relays are so tough,” Los Alamos head coach Bev Leasure said. “Right now, our relays are not up to speed…this is going to be where the relays have to step up.”One thing working in Los Alamos’ advantage is that it had last week off from competition, while La Cueva competed at West Mesa last weekend and might not be going into the meet as fresh.So far, the Hilltopper girls have been mostly able to stave off the pre-meet jitters.“Probably on the bus ride down I’ll start feeling nervous,” Moore said. “Right now, I’m just really excited for state.”Both Moore and Lydia Wermer will be competing at state for the first time this season. Moore will take part in the 100-yard butterfly and 100-yard breaststroke, while Wermer will compete in the 200 individual medley and 500 freestyle.Wermer said, even though this is her first time at the title meet, she’s not feeling any undue pressure, either.“To me, it’s not as big a deal,” she said. “It would be cool (to win), but it’s not the end of the world. There’s not much pressure.”Individually, Kara Leasure will be among the swimmers to beat in her events, the 200 IM and the 500 freestyle. Leasure has the second-fastest seed time in the 500 freestyle and the fastest in the 200 IM.Leasure finished third at state last season in the 200 IM and fifth in the 500 freestyle.Sammi Kao and La Cueva’s Brenna St. John will likely duke it out for a state title in the 200 freestyle. Kao also holds the top seed time for her other event, the 100 butterfly.For the boys, Colton Lake is the only Hilltopper to have made the cut in the 50 freestyle, and will be in contention for a finals appearance in the 100 backstroke. Putnam will also appear in the 100 backstroke, as well as in the 200 IM.Putnam, who has been battling illness this week, said rather than worrying about actual finishes, the team should just concentrate on turning in best efforts.“Of course, we want to get our times lowered,” Putnam said. “I’d like the boys to do better than eighth place…I know I can improve and I think everyone else can. We’ll definitely do better than last year.”Los Alamos’ boys were eighth in the 2007 state championship meet, and Los Alamos’ girls were fourth in team standings.In diving, Los Alamos has two entrants, Lisa Anne Hendricks and Lauren Bucklin.Both Hendricks and Bucklin are making return trips to state this season, and Bev Leasure said a good showing from both of them could make a big difference in the team standings. La Cueva has only one diver, Samantha Bapty, entered in the meet.Hendricks was 12th overall in 2007, and Bucklin was 16th overall.