Athletic directors at the Class 5A level have proven to be the most invested in controlling their own playoff destiny since a switch to the...
Aaron Ghiglieri is an accomplished swimmer.
Turns out, he's also a fine salesperson.
The Cascade Christian senior, a year-round competitor and state champion, hit the recruiting trail in search of teammates for relay squads about two weeks before the start of the season. Last year, he only had one teammate on the Challengers' first-ever swim team: Breanna Sapienza.
Within a few days, Ghiglieri convinced four friends to join up.
Now, Cascade Christian has a pair of rapidly improving relay teams made up of athletes whose experience levels vary drastically. The collection of Challengers are focused on bettering their times at a District 4 regular-season meet at Grants Pass YMCA on Saturday.
Hidden Valley, North Valley, Henley and Phoenix will also be there.
District competition begins on Feb. 10 in North Bend and Class 4A/3A/2A/1A state competition is Feb. 17 in Gresham.
Cascade Christian has fielded a 200 free squad and 200 medley squad. The teams have earned victories in relay events against Grants Pass, Crater, Ashland and Bend squads.
Cascade Christian head coach Leslie Ghiglieri and club coach Robin Brickenden help guide the bunch.
The motivation behind forming the teams was to give the Challengers a chance to earn more points and to swim with friends, Aaron Ghiglieri says.
"We are trying to place as high in state as we can, trying to take points and strategy," he says. "It's about scoring."
The first to express interest was Hudson Eustace, a state track champion whose experience in the pool is limited. He swam just a bit as a sophomore, Ghiglieri says.
"I thought it would be just me and Hudson," Ghiglieri recalls. "I thought it would be cool to have another guy."
But then Ghiglieri thought of Treyson Robbins, a basketball and football player who had swam with Ghiglieri before.
"He didn't swim for a while then he got back in the water and just powered through the water and went really fast one day in practice," Ghiglieri recalls. "I just said, 'Dude, you need to join the team.'"
The third member soon came along: senior Corey Friesen, who was a water polo player.
"He had been interested last year, but was really busy so he didn't have the time to do it," Ghiglieri says. "I asked him to reconsider and he said 'Yeah.'"
The squad wasn't done growing. Ghiglieri received a few more commitments between second and third period one day in December.
"I was talking to Corey at school and another one of my friends and they said (senior Matthew Weakley) wants to swim too," Ghiglieri says. "Then I see Matt standing there (in the hallways at Cascade Christian), and I was like 'Really!?" I was thrilled and surprised. He's a great athlete.
"Pretty much the next thing I know (Weakley) wants to do it too and I am like thrilled that I have four guys and we have a relay team."
Says Friesen: "(Ghiglieri) kind of just chiseled away and finally got me to break down and do it."
Eustace does the freestyle, Ghiglieri the fly, Friesen the breaststroke and Robbins the backstroke in the 200 medley.
Ghiglieri, Weakley, Robbins and Eustace make up the 200 free relay squad.
On the relay teams, Ghiglieri says that he has swam the first legs lately.
"It's about confidence," says Ghiglieri, who hopes to defend his state title in the 100 butterfly and also take on the 200 free at state this year. He finished second to Corbett's Colin Eaton, who is a senior this season, in the 50 free last year. "They don't want to give up that lead. It's easier to keep a lead than try to get one back, even for me."
Preserving Ghiglieri's work isn't always easy, though.
"He can get us a huge lead and by the time the relay is getting near the end we have either lost the lead or it's just getting down to the wire," Weakley says.
It was a leap of faith to form the band of swimmers by Ghiglieri because both Friesen and Weakley are swimming neophytes.
"I had been a soccer player all my life," says Weakley.
But Ghiglieri says Friesen and Weakley have improved in the pool quickly despite being wet behind the ears.
"They are two of the smartest athletes that I have ever seen as far as how they can listen to what you say and then just do exactly what you told them to do as far as technique wise in the water," Ghiglieri says of Friesen and Weakley.
"No one can just get in the pool and swim laps. You have to learn a technique. That is really tough to do. Someone can be a good runner like Hudson and get in the water and not be able to do two lengths in a row."
The first day of practice wasn't pretty.
Toward the end of it, Friesen barfed following some laps and technique work.
"I felt it coming," Friesen says with a laugh now. "I stopped and then it hit me."
Fortunately, he made it out of the pool in time to throw up in the garbage near the pool deck.
"We all had a good laugh for a bit," Friesen says. "Then it was like, 'Well, next time, stop before it gets to that point.'"
Meanwhile, Weakley "was choking on water" Ghiglieri recalls.
"It just looked sad," Ghiglieri says with a laugh. (I thought) "'Maybe this wasn't such a good idea.'"
Technique that might seem basic to swimming aficionados — like looking down rather than straight ahead while competing — is stuff the new guys had to figure out.
Weakley says he has also been blown away by the intensity of the training.
"I had no idea what I was getting into," he says. "It's unlike anything I have ever experienced before. It is just a different set of muscles that your body is using."
But team members have continued to show up at Superior Athletic Club at 5:30 a.m. most every morning to practice, where they soak up everything like a sponge.
"They caught on pretty quick," Ghiglieri says.
Reach reporter Dan Jones at 541-776-4499, or email email@example.com