The Arizona high school swim & dive season is five weeks away and already there’s one team with a decided advantage. But this time it’s more of a psychological edge.
And to no one’s surprise, that team is the Chaparral High School girls.
The Scottsdale school doesn’t really need any help intimidating opponents. The Chaparral girls’ team dominated the 2017 state championships, winning nine of the 11 events to pile up 554 team points and leave the rest of the field far behind. That was their fourth straight D-II state title.
Last year Chaparral moved up to D-I, the state’s top conference, but little changed. The girls’ squad wasted no time in establishing its place at the top of the conference, running up a total 477.5 points at the state meet, well ahead of Xavier Prep, which finished runner-up with 301 points. Xavier was the reigning champ in D-I.
On top of that, Chaparral will be led again by The Arizona Republic 2018 Swimmer of the Year, Ashley Strouse. Last year Strouse was just a sophomore when she gave the Firebirds a big boost in the state finals, winning the 200 freestyle and 500 freestyle events and also swimming the lead-off leg of the winning 400 freestyle relay. Her time of 1:45.44 in the 200 free set a new state record in that event.
And now every opponent on this year’s schedule will be faced with the psychological challenge of knowing they will be competing against the No. 1 girls’ team in the nation.
The Firebirds were recently chosen as the national public school champions by the National Interscholastic Swim Coaches Association. That honor is for the 2018 season. Computer rankings were not finalized and announced until a week ago since schools across the nation run their swim seasons at various times of the year.
Chaparral, with 6,376 points, narrowly edged out Carmel High School from Indiana in the Class 4 competition for those schools with over 1,900 enrollment. Carmel finished with 6,348 points for runner-up, while the school’s boys’ team finished No. 1 in the boys’ competition. The Chaparral boys came in ninth.
The Chaparral boys’ team had its own Swimmer of the Year in Matt Leblanc, who led the Firebirds to a runner-up finish at the state meet by winning the 100 breast and 200 IM, while also swimming a leg of the winning 200 medley relay. Like Strouse, he will also be back this season. The senior will be shooting for his third straight Swimmer of the Year award.
Both Strouse and Leblanc will get an early test. As will the Firebirds’ program.
Chaparral opens the season on Sept. 5 against the Xavier Gators – who have a score to settle.