United Seacats ready to take acts to state meet
     2014-02-27      By Terry Gaston    sports@geringcitizen
Photo by Sheila Weber/Sheila Weber Photography - For the Seacats, there is not division among Scottsbluff and Gering team members who practice and compete together as one team achieving success together. This week, 16 members of the team will compete at the Nebraska State swimming and diving competition. 
Sixteen members of the Scottsbluff/Gering Seacats swimming and diving team will participate in the Nebraska State Championships, beginning today (Thursday) through Saturday at the Bob Devaney Sports Center in Lincoln.

Nine of those Seacat state qualifiers attend Gering High School and venture to Scottsbluff High School’s Splash Arena daily, oftentimes twice.

But to many of those Gering students, the emphasis in the Seacats’ full title should be put on team, not the slash between the two cities and schools the Seacats represent.

“We see ourselves as the same,” said Seacats (and Gering) senior Noah Miller, who will compete in his third state diving event when the State Championships open today at 2 p.m. Central Time in Lincoln.

The meet continues with swimming preliminary events on Friday, at 9 a.m. for girls and 1:30 p.m. for boys, with finals on Saturday starting at 11 a.m.

The Seacats’ roster is pretty balanced between Gering and Scottsbluff students, particularly on the girls’ side, where eight of the 17 roster members are from Gering.

Five members of the 15-boys’ team are from Gering, but sophomore Jon Hastings said he does not feel like a minority or secondary member of the Seacats despite being a Bulldog during school hours.

“The team is very together,” said Hastings, a first-year Seacat after he swam at Norfolk last year and qualified for state as an alternate in the 100-yard breaststroke. He is in that event, having earned an automatic-qualifying time, and also on the Seacats’ 200-yard medley relay.

“You honestly can’t tell that there is any division whatsoever,” Hastings added. “Everybody gets along and we’re all one team.”

Senior Vanessa Woolsey, said becoming a Seacat from a Bulldog on a daily basis has never been an issue, largely because she has been swimming with the Scotts Bluff Torpedoes for about 12 years,

“It was kind of natural,” Woolsey said of when she joined the Seacats as a freshman. “They’re like a second family. Everybody treats everyone the same, so there is no competitiveness.

“Obviously our schools are going to be against each other, but for us, it won’t be any different, like when we see each other, we will still act like we’re teammates. It’s no big difference outside of the pool.”

Or, is there? The rivalry never finds its way into the Seacats’ family?

“Whoever wins, we always get at each other at practice,” Woolsey said of Gering-Scottsbluff match-ups in other sports. “Other than that, it’s just about the same.”

At state, Woolsey said she hopes to break the school record in the 100 backstroke and get all three girls’ relays into Saturday’s finals.

Gering junior Ciera Weatherfield, who is making her third trip to state as part of the Seacats’ relays, said teasing is natural among the team members – “Quite a bit,” she added – but nothing out of the ordinary among teenagers or ever inflated because of the Twin Cities arch-rivalry.

“With the two schools, we get pretty close and we’re just together,” Weatherfield said,” and we get to know other kids from different places.”

Gering senior Baylen Smith, who is making his third trip to state for the Seacats, has swam since he was 8 with the Torpedoes and then for the high school team, said having family in the cooperative swimming program helped him ease his way into the group.

“I knew most of the swimmers because my sisters were in the program, and I knew a lot of their friends,” Smith said. “I didn’t feel too out of place. It was nice meeting people from Scottsbluff.”

Senior Zach Puckett took a different route to the Seacats. First he wrestled for the Bulldogs, but a career choice led to his change in winter sports.

“My sophomore year I wrestled, and I made the decision to swim because I decided to join the Navy, and I thought swimming might help me better than wrestling,” Puckett said. “My dad was a pretty good swimmer, so maybe genetics helps.”

On joining the Seacats, Puckett said, “I was kind of nervous because I didn’t really know anybody except for Jon Wiebe (a two-time state place as a senior last year), and he goes to my church. I told him I was interested in swimming, and so he introduced me to everybody and I really like it.”

Scottsbluff/Gering head coach Mike Hayhurst, who is in his 14th year of leading the Seacats, said the line between the Bulldogs and Bearcats on the team is definitely blurred.

“Honestly, there are days where I don’t even know where the kids go,” said Hayhurst, who has been coaching swimming since 1979. “From how they treat each other and act, you’d have no idea what schools they go to.

“There’s no animosity whatsoever, and you would have to ask them what school they go to. It’s something that’s brought up at all, ever. Other than I know the Gering kids get here a little later and sometimes they’ve had to leave a little earlier to get back over, depending on the weather.”

Hayhurst said, while Scottsbluff/Gering is one of the few programs that includes both its cooperative member schools in its name, and that having such arrangements is more the norm rather than the exception statewide.

“Every single small-town swimming team, except two of them, have cooperatives. Everybody is a cooperative other than Lincoln and Omaha. North Platte’s got it, Norfolk’s got it, and that’s because you have schools that don’t have pools.

“So everybody is plenty willing to bring them in because swimming is a numbers game. You need 22 to 25 kids just to fill out a lineup. So if you don’t have those numbers on each side, you’re at a disadvantage. So everybody’s willing to bring kids in.

“We’ve never had a problem. It’s been great the whole time I’ve been here.”

“We’re like a family,” added senior Jessie Sorensen.

Proof that dogs and cats can indeed get along, in spite of their different upbringings and misgivings.

Other Gering-based Seacats who will represent the team at state are freshman Rebekah Rawlings and John Stark, who add legs to their respective relays.

In their individual swimming events at state, the Seacat boys will have Hastings in the 100-yard breaststroke, freshman Ian Galindo compete in the 100 freestyle and 200 individual medley.

Miller, as a three-time state diving qualifier and two-time Greater Nebraska Athletic Conference champion, said he hopes to earn a top-six finish and medal for the Seacats. Miller finished the state meet in 10th place last year.

In winning the GNAC title on Feb. 14, Miller scored 363.45 points, just 4.35 points off Jose Arellano’s 367.8 points set in 2006.

“I didn’t see myself coming that close to the record,” Miller said. “Going into it, I really wasn’t thinking about the record, but when I ended up being so close I was disappointed that I couldn’t have gone that extra little bit.

“I just want to go down there and not mess up; that’s my goal. I’ve been working on every dive to get them constant enough that I’m not going to mess up on them at state. That’s what it will take to place high and also, hopefully, break the record.”

For the Seacat girls, Woolsey will compete in the 100 backstroke and 100 butterfly, while sophomore Sarah Cloud will compete in the 100 breaststroke.

On the girls’ relays, the 200 medley relay consists of Weatherfield, Cloud, Woolsey and sophomore Hannah Holloway. The 200 freestyle relay has Holloway, Sorensen, Rawlings and sophomore Anna Yanke. The 400 freestyle relay features Woolsey, Weatherfield, Emily Yanke and Sorensen.

The Seacat boys’ 200 medley relay has freshman Tito Garcia, Hastings, Galindo and Puckett. Their 200 freestyle relay includes Puckett, Garcia, Smith and Stark. The 400 free relay has Galindo, Smith, Puckett and junior James Maag.

Miller and Hastings earned their way into the state field by posting automatic-qualifying marks; the others were accepted with strong secondary-qualifying times.

“The nice thing about an automatic is you are seeded,” Hayhurst said. “I think Jon is seeded 15th, so he is already seeded into a scoring spot. Diving is different because of the judging.

“So we have a great number going, not as many events as last year. We had four swims that would have made it last year, and they didn’t make it this year, so you never know with the secondary situation. It’s a great representation, it’s great experience, it’s a very young team.”

And for Miller, the meet will mark the end of his four years as a Seacat.

“I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the teammates and the coaches and other people,” said Miller, whose dad, Scottsbluff Fire Chief Dana Miller, dived for the Seacats. “It’s always like a big family. We all love each other and it’s sad to say goodbye at the end of the season when we’re used to being with each other for a couple of hours every day.”

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