Booming youth swim club wins weekend meet

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— Essi Kenttala, head coach of Steamboat Springs' summer club swim team, is stumped time and again by the same question posed to her at meets across the Western Slope.

"They always ask me, 'Where do you find all these kids?'" Kenttala said about her team, nicknamed Team Lightning.

The Lightning, a youth team that has grown to 108 swimmers selected from tryouts, has boomed as Steamboat swimmers capitalize on their only season to participate. Other mountain communities - ones with access to indoor recreation swim facilities - have shifted their focus from summer to year-round programs, Kenttala said.

Steamboat took 56 of its top swimmers to last weekend's Sopris Barracudas Invitational Swim Meet in Glenwood Springs. Despite a lack of any boy swimmers 13 or older, the Lightning won the meet as a testament to their size and speed, edging out the host as well as teams from Gunnison, Grand Junction, Rangely, Aspen, Montrose, Delta and Craig.

"All the coaches were so proud - the kids all try their best, and a lot of them, almost everybody, was able to take time off" their events, Kenttala said.

Steamboat set seven new (three individual and four relay) records at the Glenwood Springs Community Center pool and had the following swimmers break into the top three of the individual point rankings: Isabel Rillos (second, 6-and-under girls), Annika Malacinski (third, 6-and-under girls), Kathleen O'Connell (second, 7 to 8 girls), Keala Fraioli (third, 7 to 8 girls), Frank Ruppel (second, 7 to 8 boys), Joe Borgerding (third, 9 to 10 boys) and Amy Brodie (first, 13 to 14 girls).

In addition to wrapping up her age division, Brodie highlighted the winning Steamboat girls team as its top point winner with seven individual first-place finishes. Frank Ruppel had six second-place individual finishes to help the boys to a third-place team finish.

"It could've been faster - I was just thinking so much about my technique that I stopped counting" laps, Brodie said about her 200-meter freestyle race that she won and set a new pool record for.

Brodie enjoyed watching some of the youngest 8-and-under team members win their heats, highlighted by Finn O'Connell's memorable finish in the 200-meter medley relay.

"He was way behind and caught up to the kid from Aspen and beat him by one one-hundredth of a millisecond," Brodie said.

After a Thursday morning clinic and Finnish pancake breakfast, courtesy of Kenttala, the Lightning left Friday for a weekend meet in Grand Junction.

"I was hoping to win some events in the sprints - we haven't done those for two years," said Penn Lukens, who broke the 200-meter backstroke pool record in Glenwood.

- To reach Dave Shively, call 871-4253

or e-mail dshively@steamboatpilot.com

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