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Local swimmers doing their thing for Byron

The pool at Byron High School was a beehive of activity on last week, with swimmers churning out laps and divers hoping for clean entry into the crystal clear blue water.

And it wasn’t just Byron students. The Byron Tigers have 24 girls on their co-op team this season, from six schools: Byron, Dixon, Oregon, Polo, Stillman Valley and Forreston.

“I like the co-op vibe,” second-year head coach Adam Gura said. “I like how it brings a lot of kids together under one sport, and they get an opportunity to learn more about kids in different schools and different environments. They come here and we’re all under one roof and under one name. It brings a lot more variety to our sport than you see in other sports.”

Oregon junior Avery Clark is also happy to be part of a mixed bag of swimmers.

“I really like that we have all this diversity, and we get to watch everybody come together and share their talent together,” Clark said. “Then we get to meet so many new people. I wouldn’t know half these girls if I didn’t swim on this team.”

Clark is one of four Oregon students on the team, along with sophomores Emily Marshall, Liz Mois and Sophie Stender.

Clark is a returning state qualifer, having swum the 50 butterfly portion of the 200 medley relay. There will be no relays in meets this season, however – a casualty of COVID-19 guidelines when it comes to swimming.

“I’m really bummed about that because I like to watch everybody come together and just get all excited together,” Clark said. “Individual races aren’t the same, but they’ll still be fun.”

Clark will likely compete in the butterfly, breaststroke and backstroke for the Tigers, and Gura is expecting big things.

“The great thing about Avery is how versatile she is in her events,” Gura said. “I can put her in anything and she’s going to be able to handle it.”

Marshall is penciled in as one of the Tigers’ sprinters, and is hoping to rack up points in the 50 and 100 freestyle races.

“Emily is just a beast in the water,” Gura said. “She’s built for speed and she’s built for sprinting. She’s going to do great things.”

When asked what aspect of her game has been taken up a notch this season, Marshall didn’t hesitate. It is an improved flip turn.

“Those were slacking a little bit last year,” Marshall said with a smile.

Mois and Stender were volleyball players as freshmen. As volleyball will be a spring sport for the 2020-21 school year, they’re giving diving a try.

The team’s top diver is from Dixon, junior Laci Long. She was a state qualifier as a sophomore, but missed the initial cut by a mere two points. With no state meet this year to shoot for, she’s hoping to peak for a sectional on Oct. 24.

“With COVID, I can’t get a lot of practice time in, but I’ve really been working with my personal trainer,” Long said. “I’ve been running, keeping up my cardio, staying in shape, and treating this year as if we had a state meet. I’m pushing toward being at my best at the end.”

Long is joined by five other Dixon athletes: seniors Zara Shuey, Allison Zimmerman and Tianna Lonkert, junior Meah Helfrich and freshman Brooke Sanchez.

Polo is represented by a pair of freshmen in Gaby Oliver and Piper Martin-Presley.

Many of the swimmers played other sports or have limited experience in the pool, but that is just fine with Gura. He likes the challenge of working with newcomers to the sport as much as his returning state qualifiers.

“With the way the pandemic hit and swimming still being open, we have a lot of kids that are new to the sport and are either trying diving or swimming for the first time,” Gura said. “You get a kid like that and they’re interested in doing it, they’re great to work with.”