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An inspired performance propels Wasatch to first 4A region title

The Wasatch High School swim team has not had a difficult time this season finding motivation to exceed expectations. On both the boys and girls side, the Wasps have found inspiration amongst themselves. In their eyes, they have already beaten odds that basically had them a second- or third-place team in their region.

However, with their sights set on a run at the Region 8 championship last weekend, the Wasatch High swimmers took to the pool at the Provo Recreation Center prepared to face a tough Springville High team along with the other formidable opponents standing in their way.

Expecting to make a run at first place in the girls division and a respectable showing in the boys, head coach Steve Marsing geared up his troops to give it their all — and for many of them, it would be their season.

“Knowing what we had this year region was our focus,” stated Marsing. “We had top ladies and knew we were pretty much there, but with the boys we knew we would have to really swim our best.”

Swim their best they did.

The Wasps hit the water with vigor from the first gun Friday night and didn’t let up until the final event. In the end, it was the Wasps taking the Region 8 team title with 891 points, strongly outscoring second-place finisher Springville, the conference favorite going in, by 119 points.

“In my projections — in my scoring ahead of time — I knew it would be close,” Marsing said. “For us to win as a team, the girls would have to perform to their capabilities, but the boys would have to be the difference.”

The women, behind four first-place finishes, two individually by senior Phebe James, in the 50-yard free and the 100-yard free, beat the Red Devils by 68 points. The other girls golds came in the 200-yard medley relay and the 400-yard free relay, where James is on both teams. She is joined in the 200 by senior Maddy Svoboda, senior Rachel Finley and freshman Abby Hendricks. Senior MaeLin Sorenson and junior Ria McCarthy join James and Finley on the 400 squad.

“It’s super exciting to win region,” said James. “We just had so many great swims this weekend. We were just telling ourselves that we had to give it our all and we could win it. And we did.”

Finley nabbed a second- and third-place finish, in the 100-yard fly and 200-yard IM, respectively, and Sorenson scored a third-place finish in the 200-yard free to help keep their team at the top of the board. Hendricks pitched in with a third-place finish in the 100-yard breast.

The boys had one lone gold medal finish in the 200-yard medley relay with juniors Chad Patterson and Brigham Wabel, sophomore Jaden Mickelson and freshman Calvin Giese. The 200-yard free relay with Mickelson, senior Paul Fitzgerald, sophomore Andrew Bos and freshman Ian James took a second.

Patterson also scored strong seconds in the 50-yard free and the 500-yard free. Wabel took third in the 100-yard back and Giese had a third-place finish in the 100-yard fly.

All in all, Wasatch scored 55 top 10 finishes in the 22 events, which is a credit to the team’s depth and hard work by underclass swimmers.

“We have really good depth this year,” Marsing said. “There is a lot of youth, especially on the boys side, but it is sure promising youth. I’m really pleased and just so proud of how hard these kids have worked this year. They really showed me something.”

Wasatch is no stranger to success in the swimming pool. Two years ago, its final season in Class 3A Region 10, the Wasps took state championships for both the boys and girls.

Last season, though hardly the dominant force they were the year before, the Wasps still managed top-10 finishes in the state while moving up into Region 8 of Class 4A.

Winning this year’s conference championships is a step in the right direction for Marsing and his Wasps on their way back to the top in the state.

“It’s been tougher this year, individually, to keep on besting my times,” said James. “You kind of peak and it takes a little bit more each time to improve. You really have to reach deep inside yourself to get those performances.”

James’ inspired weekend in the region tournament will certainly garner most of the praise, but she credits her close-knit team for being able to stick together and push each other to do better each time.

In addition to her dominant swims and the surprise attack provided by the boys side, Wasatch feeds off the positive vibes of an unlikely team hero.

Kale Walker, a sophomore on the boys team, is blind. Walker joined the swim team this season after showing Marsing he had the desire and ability to perform well in the water. Marsing had no idea how Walker would affect his team.

“He has been an inspiration, no doubt,” said Marsing. “The entire team has rallied around him. But it’s not a charitable thing. Kale can swim. He continues to get more comfortable and improve his times each race. Just like we expect from all of our swimmers.”

By the sound of the cheers alone echoing from the pool when Walker is swimming, one would think two state-champion caliber swimmers were neck and neck on the final lap for a record time.

“He inspires all of us to do better,” stated Sorenson, who volunteered to help Walker get acclimated to being a member of the team. She uses a tennis ball on a pole to signal Walker on his location in the pool while competing and gets him to and from team practices.

Fitzgerald is Walker’s guide on the boys side, helping him through the locker rooms and getting him to the start of his heat on time.

“Kale has meant so much to us a team,” said Fitzgerald. “A lot of our success today is due to him.”

Walker won’t be in the pool at the state meet next weekend, but he will be there to inspire his team as they reach for the ultimate goal: the state championships.

“It won’t be like it was today,” Marsing added. “We really showed up for this one and surprised some teams. They will be a little more prepared for us at BYU.”

Kenny Bristow is the sports editor and staff sports writer for the Wasatch Wave and contributes to the Deseret News high school coverage for the Wasatch region. Email: kennywbristow@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter, Google+ and Facebook.