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Unalaska wrestlers dive in to provide competition at Saturday’s swim meet after Valdez gets weathered out

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Maggie Nelson
Despite missing out on the much-anticipated competition against the Valdez team, Coach Homka said several of the athletes set new personal records on Saturday.

Unalaska’s swim team had planned to host its first and only home swim meet of the season last Saturday, but, unfortunately, high winds kept their Valdez competitors from flying in.

The UCSD student athletes weren’t discouraged though and showed up ready to compete, accompanied on the sidelines by loud cheers from school staff, teachers, parents and friends.

And in the water, while the Valdez team was stuck hundreds of miles away, volunteers from Unalaska’s wrestling team jumped in to save the day, providing some much needed competition.

“It was wonderful that the wrestling team stepped up and wanted to challenge the kids,” said Head Swim Coach Bil Homka. “[The wrestlers] aren’t swimming all the time — some of them are pretty good — and it’s fun just to have people here to [swim] with and it’s fun to watch.”

The weekend meet would have been the first home competition in nearly two years. Last year, the team wasn’t able to host any competitors because of the coronavirus pandemic. And 2019’s season was cut short due to a fatal plane crash at Unalaska’s airport, which put a pause on commercial air service to the island for several months.

Homka was thrilled to have the wrestlers volunteer to add some competition to the meet, but he said there’s no comparison to competing in a real race, against swimmers from other schools.

“I can push them all week long, but when they get in a race, suddenly, there’s two, three, five seconds dropped,” he said.

For the junior high swimmers, Saturday’s meet was their only chance this school year to compete against another team, as they don’t travel with the high school. Some of the younger students were disappointed that they didn’t get the chance to swim against Valdez, but sixth grade student Deklan Nettleton said Saturday’s event was still a great opportunity for a confidence boost.

“[Racing] the wrestlers is fun because they don’t really know how to swim,” Nettleton said.

Team co-captain Shane Morris is a senior this year. It’s been rough not getting the chance to compete at home meets for the past couple years, he said.

“I think I swim better when I compete because you have someone right next to you and you can kind of pace yourself off of them and it just makes you want to swim faster,” Morris said.

Morris competes in the 100 fly and the 200 individual medley. His goal for the season, he said, is to beat the 200 IM record. He’s still got a few seconds to shave off, but he said he’s got about another month before the season ends, and he’s got high hopes he can achieve his goal.

Morris’s mom, Teri Morris, watched from the sidelines, supporting her son and her daughter — one of the student wrestlers who joined the meet to provide some competition.

Morris said she enjoyed watching them both, but said parenting during the pandemic has been a challenge.

“It’s hard with the pandemic to watch your kids be limited on what they can do,” she said. “Especially if they’re in high school. They only have a number of years left to travel and compete. But luckily we’re in school this year and we’re [doing] activities and traveling is happening — so that’s good.”

Despite missing out on the much-anticipated competition against the Valdez team, Coach Homka said several of the athletes set new personal records on Saturday.

It may be another year before Unalaska’s swim team gets to host any competitors, but the team will head to Palmer this weekend to compete, weather permitting.

Hailing from Southwest Washington, Maggie moved to Unalaska in 2019. She's dabbled in independent print journalism in Oregon and completed her Master of Arts in English Studies at Western Washington University — where she also taught Rhetoric and Composition courses.
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