The Panther boys swim team take second place at the Absaroka Conference Championship

Gabby Paterson

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Steve Johnston

Senior Kyler Warren swims freestyle at the conference meet in Douglas. Warren placed sixth in the 100 meter freestyle and tenth in the 200 meter freestyle.

The Panther boys swim team traveled to Douglas for the first time in over a decade to compete in the Absaroka 3A North Conference meet. The team took home a second place finish with 254 points only falling short to Buffalo who put up a total of 305 points. 

After being placed in a new conference this year, the Panthers were faced with the challenge of facing mostly new teams and swimming in a 25 meter pool rather than the familiar 25 yard pool. 

“It was a completely different conference this year with completely different teams,” PHS swim coach Jerry Rodriguz said. “It did help our performance not having to compete against the reigning 3A state champion Lander (26 years) but conference winner Buffalo is very strong this year.”

Senior Nate Johnston led the team by securing two championship titles and two conference records in the 200 meter individual medley and the 100 meter breaststroke. The previous 200 meter individual medley record was 2:21.36 and Johnston shattered the record with a time of 2:15.18. The previous 100 meter breaststroke record was 1:09.62 and he finished with a time of 1:05.77. Johnston earned the Athlete of the Meet Award, which highlighted his exceptional performance. 

“Nate had an outstanding meet,” Coach Rodriguz said. “He won two events and broke two conference records during prelims and then came back the next day in finals and broke both of his records again.”

 Conference records are seldom broken, and the previous records had been held since 1993 and 2014. Breaking these records was considerably harder due to the fact the meet was held in the longer 25 meter pool. 

“It’s an amazing accomplishment,” Johnston said. “Not often do these records happen but this meet was an exception because a lot of records were broken. I’m extremely proud to have broken two over the weekend.”

Other top athletes for the Panthers include junior Ru Parker who finished second in the 100 meter backstroke and third in the 100 meter fly, senior Francis Rogers who finished fourth in the 200 meter freestyle and fifth in the 400 meter freestyle, junior Kobus Diver who finished fifth in the 200 meter freestyle and fourth in the 400 meter freestyle and divers junior Ashtin Prentis who placed fourth and senior Cole Frank who placed fifth in the diving competition. 

During the meet, the Panthers added another state qualifier to their list. Junior Aidan Canizarro secured his spot on the state team in the 100 meter backstroke with a time of 1:12.18. Freshman Cole Fasukee picked up the 100 meter butterfly and junior Daivd Polson added the 200 meter freestyle.

“I am insanely impressed with my teammate and their performances at the conference meet,” Johnston said. “This [state] team is the best team I will ever have, and I have high hopes for everybody.”

I am insanely impressed with my teammate and their performances at the conference meet. This [state] team is the best team I will ever have, and I have high hopes for everybody.

— Nate Johnston

The excitement surrounding the meet was joined by the sorrow of losing the team’s nine senior leaders, although the young panther team is heading for many successful seasons in the future. 

“It was a fun conference and a good meet but behind everything there was a hint of ‘Wow, I’m not going to be able to do this again,” senior Riley Schiller said. “We have a good group of seniors this year, but I’m sure that next year they will find their own dynamic as a team.”

The Panthers set their eyes on a spot on the podium at the state championship even though their team depth will not be as effective at the state meet with strong teams like Lander and Green River at the meet. Although the team will be taking 17 promising state qualifiers to the championship which is the largest state team the Panthers have had in years. 

 “My plans for state are to just get mentally prepared for what is to come,” Johnston said. “Prelims are extremely stressful because the competition is insanely close, and has been for the past two years. My goal is to take my third state championship title and hopefully lead my team to a podium finish.”