Hood River’s Sarah Arpag

Hood River’s Sarah Arpag will transition from water polo to swim team.

To say the Hood River Valley girls swim team is built for a district championship is an understatement. The Eagles have the numbers — a requisite for district-meet success — and they have talent, which obviously helps, as well.

The same could be said a year ago — of both the HRV girls and boys teams. And, on cue, the Eagle boys used depth and talent to win the 2021 Intermountain Conference crown in the COVID-delayed, late 2021 spring season. The Eagle girls, built much the same way, scored plenty of points to match the boys’ performance, but Pendleton had a tad more depth and won, 376-375.

But that was last year, and the Eagle girls once again have the blueprint to win an IMC crown. The numbers are there, said Coach Shelly Rawding, who welcomed 46 boy and girl swimmers to preseason workouts which began Nov. 15. So is the talent.

“It definitely feels really good to be back to what seems like a normal swim season,” said Rawding, in her fourth season as head coach. “We have 46 swimming this year, which is more than we’ve ever had. And it’s very even through the grade levels.”

The only setback to the Eagle preparation thus far has been a lack of pool time because of low staffing numbers at Hood River Aquatics Center. The staffing woes have caused the pool to be closed on Sundays and Mondays.

The HRV roster includes 26 girls — six who placed (top eight) at district this past spring season. “They’re all good swimmers,” Rawding said. “We’re going to have a very competitive team this year. I think that we could be the team to beat in district.”

“Our numbers stayed really strong (despite the pandemic). It will be interesting to see if the other teams bounced back. You definitely want to fill all the events, because that’s going to get you the most points.”

HRV won seven of eight individual titles and all three relays at the 2021 district finals. This year’s team has eight seniors, including district placers (relay or individual events) like Jessica Galvez and Sarah Arpag. The latter won two individual district titles, in the 100-yard butterfly and 100 backstroke.

Sophomore teammate Michelle Graves and junior Emma Titus also won events: Graves the 200 individual medley and 100 breaststroke; and Titus the 200 freestyle.

Arpag and Graves swam legs on HRV’s district champion 200-yard medley relay. Arpag, sophomore Abby Tomlinson and Titus return from the Eagle’s first-place 400-freestyle relay, and Titus and Graves were part of Hood River’s IMC meet-winning 200 free relay.

There was no OSAA-sponsored state meet last season because of COVID, but two years ago Arpag was runner-up in the 100 butterfly to Crescent Valley’s Francesca Criscione, who has since graduated. Arpag was trying to join HRV’s list of girls state swim champions, which includes Bethany Pendleton, Kimberly Simpson and Caitlyn Shortt. Arpag also finished third at state that season in the 100 backstroke.

Arpag, Titus, Mary Rose Kissinger, Sophie Cross, and Esme Price were each all-league selections during HRV’s recently completed water polo season — providing them with a good conditioning base.

Rawding mentioned frosh Mia Arndt as among those expected to be key contributors this winter. Rawding also emphasized the importance of the versatility of her team members, many who can swim multiple disciplines. Graves, for example, is a strong IMer and breaststroker, Rawding said.

Senior Nora Sandoval is a first-year swimmer who Rawding said will help in the longer freestyle events; sophomore Anna Southall also placed at district in 2021.

On the boys side, Rawding said team leaders include juniors Gavin Hackett, who is one of eight juniors along with Lucas Elliott and Kai Hawkins.

“They have a strong class — eight boys in that class,” Rawding said. “Lucas, his breaststroke has really taken off. With the medley relay, having Lucas in that breaststroke (is key).”

Hawkins is strong in the freestyle events and Hackett is HRV’s top returning district placer from a year ago. He won the 100 butterfly and was second in the 100 backstroke. Elliott was third in the 100 breaststroke and 200 individual medley.

Other district placers (top eight) returning for HRV include sophomores Jackson Bullock and Elijah Adams, and senior Moze Banks. Senior Tristan Smith is returning to the program for his senior year. “Jackson is not afraid to swim the longer freestyle events,” Rawding said.

“The rest of our boys, we have just a very nice solid mix,” she added. “My challenge as a coach will be finding people that we can sneak into non-freestyle events.”

HRV will get a good early-season test, as Pendleton is the first dual meet opponent on Dec. 9. “They usually have a very strong boys team,” Rawding said. “Our goal is to stay healthy and have a really good season.”