by Max Foster
roundup staff reporter
Although the regular season is officially over, 14 members of the Payson Pikes swim team advance to the Verde Valley Invitational tomorrow (Saturday) in Cottonwood.
The athletes who are entered, Pikes coach Kristi Ford said, are all volunteers who will compete unattached since local team sponsors the Parks and Recreation Department does not sanction away meets.
Ford anticipates her swimmers will compete in Cottonwood against 12 teams from around the state.
The team has been practicing for the upcoming competition in early morning sessions until Wednesday when rain forced cancellation of the practice. It was the first time this summer that foul weather interrupted team practice, Ford said.
During the course of the past season, 98 Pikes team members participated in five meets held at Taylor Pool.
Ford was a volunteer coach for seven seasons before accepting the head coaching position early this summer. Many of the youngsters on the team were first-year swimmers still struggling to master the nuances of the sport.
Although they were rookies, most all were quick learners eager to do well, Ford said.
Among the rookie team members who made huge strides were Mary Hagen, Vanessa Trella, Natalie Trella, Amanda Amon, Shawn Levendoski and others.
"They all picked (swimming techniques) up quickly," Ford said.
The team was without several of its older and more experienced swimmers because, as teenagers, they had summer jobs and couldn't attend the morning practice sessions. Officials are working on rescheduling some late afternoon practices next summer to accommodate those athletes who have summer jobs.
About the only other downside of the highly successful season was the loss of a pair of the team's most accomplished athletes.
Brooke and Shelby Bennett's family moved a week ago to Eagar where their father works as a physician. The two will attend Round Valley High School.
At the Grand Canyon State Games in mid-June, Brooke put her considerable swimming skills on display by winning gold medals in the 100-meter butterfly, freestyle and backstroke.
Shelby was first in the 13-to-14-year 100 butterfly and the 50 freestyle. She finished second in the 100 backstroke and third in the 200 medley.
"The sisters will be missed," Ford said.
The entire contingent of Pike team members celebrated the culmination of the campaign Friday evening at a pizza and swim party held at Rumsey Park and Taylor Pool.
All who finished the campaign were awarded medals.