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Swimming state of mind

Melissa Gilmore and the North Medford girls swim team hope to make a splash at the district meet

Swimming isn't just a seasonal sport for North Medford junior Melissa Gilmore.

Actually, the pool has turned into a home away from home for Gilmore and many of her Black Tornado teammates.

Starting today, Gilmore and North put those year-round skills to the test with the start of the Southern Oregon Conference district meet at the Southern Oregon University pool in Ashland.

The two-day event begins at 9 this morning and culminates with the finals on Saturday starting at noon.

— The District 4 meet featuring Class 3A schools will also take place this weekend at North Bend.

Justin Heath leads the Phoenix boys swim team in their quest for a fourth-straight crown, while North Bend looks to make it two straight on the girls side. The meet starts at 11:45 a.m. today and runs through Saturday.

In the SOC district meet, meanwhile, the Roseburg girls team is looking for its 15th straight district title, while the boys hope to win their 14th championship in 15 years.

North's Tolga Tokman, who won the 100 butterfly and 500 freestyle last season, is one of three different competitors returning to defend a district title.

But the Black Tornado got a taste of what the Indians have to offer last weekend in the season's final dual meet.

Roseburg has 48 kids for the district lineup, says North Medford coach Barbara Houck, whose team lost on both the girls and boys side to the Indians. It was a good way to gage ourselves.

Gilmore was the lone victor for North with a first-place finish in 500 freestyle.

Melissa is a very good all-purpose swimmer, says Houck. Typically, she does really well in the 500 and 200 (freestyle) but you can put her anywhere and she'll do well.

The 16-year-old Gilmore has made a habit of placing her name near the top since starting her swimming career 10 years ago.

I was taking lessons, says Gilmore, whose family moved to Medford from the Portland area four years ago, and some people came up and told my mom I should be on a team.

I seem to do pretty well at it. I enjoy (swimming).

During the offseason, Gilmore and a handful of her teammates swim for the Medford YMCA Stingrays. The lengthy workouts have helped push Gilmore into one of the SOC's top distance swimmers.

Melissa has a good shot of making the top — (in the 500), says Houck. She came in second twice during the season, and typically does really well in the 200 and 500.

The North girls finished with a 6-1 record ' the boys were 4-2 ' behind Gilmore and fellow standouts Erin Ebert, Lakin Rigby, Stephanie Cendejas, Hillary Burrelle, Sarah Flinn and Brianna Houck.

I have a lot of endurance, Gilmore says, who finished third in the 200 and second in the 500 a year ago. I don't turn over fast enough to do sprints...(Distance events) is just something I've always done.

Gilmore will have her hands full in both the 200 and 500 at the district meet.

Ashland's Ashley Roda, the defending champion in the 200, should offer a stern test, while South Medford's Nancy Hawley ' last year's 500 champion ' and Crater's Ashlee Rutter will offer up a tough challenge in the 500.

In head-to-head matchups, Roda's time of 2 minutes, nine seconds bested Gilmore by six seconds in the 200. Rutter (5:51) enjoyed a narrow victory over Gilmore (5:52) in the 500.

I'll probably be a little nervous, says Gilmore of this weekend's event. I always get pretty nervous before a race.

I think I'll be okay, with what I've done against some of the other teams.

Reach reporter Kevin Goff at 776-4483 or e-mail .