Cheney Free Press -

By JOHN McCALLUM
Editor 

Cheney swimming continues to develop talent, success

Crunch Time

 

November 2, 2017



I’ve got to give a shout-out to the Cheney High School girls swimming team. In fact, a shout-out to Blackhawk swimmers of both genders through the years.

I hope this doesn’t come out wrong, but if it does, don’t shoot me.

Cheney’s swimming program has been somewhat of the odd-man (woman) out at times. It doesn’t have the prominence of sports more popular among the average fan, nor does it always benefit from club competition ingrained into other athletics such as soccer or volleyball.

In fact, high school competitive swimming in Eastern Washington is a rare breed. There are really only two strong programs, both of whom have the luxury of universities in their backyard to furnish aquatic facilities — Cheney and Pullman.

Clarkston has attempted to field a team lately, and in the past, swimmers from schools such as West Valley and Medical Lake have competed via the co-op system with Cheney. Looking back at some of my stories from years ago, Cheney competed against some North Idaho schools as well, and was part of the Greater Spokane League at one point before those programs went away — leaving the Blackhawks relying solely on some teams from the Central Washington Athletic Conference to form up an Eastern Washington league.

Those schools have come and gone as the classification cycles shift. What hasn’t come back, however, are other area programs, mainly because indoor swimming facilities — essential to the high school sport — have disappeared for the most part.

That’s one of the factors why Cheney’s team is so impressive. Another is the longevity of its coach, Jennifer Hochwalt.

The first couple years I covered swimming here at the Free Press, as a staff reporter and then editor, there were several coaching changes. Hochwalt came in 2007 as a co-head coach with Chris Hoppe, who was himself a four-year letter winner and state participant as a Blackhawk.

Hochwalt coached Cheney’s club team in the Eastern Washington Recreation Association, an organization that eventually disbanded. She eventually took on the sole head coaching duties in 2009.

Over the years, I’ve watched the program’s participation ebb and flow, often more ebb. In the past several years, however, the team has grown and seems to maintain a constant size of around 30 athletes — 38 this season which includes Medical Lake swimmers Bayleigh Duranti and Isabella Smith.

Many of the swimmers are new to competitive swimming, something to me attests to the strength and quality Hochwalt brings. Swimming is one of the few sports that takes place in an environment that could kill you if you’re not careful and skilled at what you’re doing.

It’s called drowning. I’m not a fan.

Hochwalt is able to take these first-timers, others who haven’t swam competitively in years and those who compete in the off-season in what club teams are left, and transform them into a competitive, fun-having group. You should check out a meet sometime to see what I mean.

Through the years, the Blackhawks program has been blessed with a couple swimmers here and there that are dominant enough to be able to continue their careers at the collegiate level. Swimmers who qualified for state by making time standards, and Cheney lost two of those to graduation last spring.

But while a young team, a team one might think is rebuilding, the Blackhawks haven’t experienced much of a drop off. Instead, as evidenced by their performances at districts, they got stronger as the season progressed — something that bodes well for the future.

The reality is that future is now. Cheney once again is sending a good contingent to state in Federal Way.

No doubt they will represent the school and community well. Here’s hoping they make a big splash!

John McCallum can be reached at jmac@cheneyfreepress.com.

 

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