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Panthers cap epic state run in style

At the end of an unprecedented run at the Class 6A swimming state championships in Gresham, South Medford coach Doug Stewart wasn't sure he had much left to give when asked about the effort of his Panthers during Saturday's finals.

Then he found out exactly where his boys and girls swim teams had finished in the team standings at Mount Hood Community College, and that pretty much put Stewart over the edge.

Buoyed by strong showings in the short and long freestyle relays and individual outings by freshman Aaron Ghiglieri and junior Clark Snyder, South Medford's boys team placed sixth overall with 79 points — only two points behind Newberg but well behind runaway champion Westview (151).

"That's just crazy," said a stunned Stewart. "Before this week, if you would've said we'd be in the top six I would've said no way. That's unbelievable."

The same sense of shock spilled over to the girls side, where the Panthers rode the capable shoulders of seniors Kelsey Hoeper and Melissa Ghiglieri and freshman Sarah Reierson to top-six individual efforts and also fared well in the 200- and 400-yard freestyle relays to place ninth overall. Jesuit won the girls title with 134 points, while South Medford's 79 points trailed Sheldon by only one point.

"I'm just thrilled," the coach added of the performance of the Panther girls. "I don't even have the words to tell you ... I mean, to think that South Medford would get in the top 10 in overall state points is beyond my wildest dreams."

"I think this is the most powerful swim team that Southern Oregon, at least south of Roseburg, has seen," added Stewart. "I don't know of any team that's finished higher, and I've been doing my research on that and gone back quite a ways."

Hoeper was particularly impressive in the final swim meet of her high school career, placing third in the 50-yard freestyle in 24.69 seconds and third in the 100 free at 53.35. The senior also swam a leg on South's 400 free relay squad that placed sixth in 3:42.45 and the 200 free relay squad that was eighth in 1:42.19.

"I know Kelsey's extremely happy," said Stewart. "Placing in the top three in 6A competition here is just something spectacular and I know she's going to cherish for a long time."

Melissa Ghiglieri, Paige Granger and Reierson joined Hoeper in the relays, with Reierson also placing sixth in the 200 individual medley (2:14.00) and 100 backstroke (1:00.65). Melissa Ghiglieri finished sixth in the 100 breaststroke in 1:08.28.

The biggest splash of the meet for South Medford, however, was provided by the Panther boys in the 200 freestyle relay. Behind the efforts of Snyder, Matt Gardner, Ryken Robbins and Aaron Ghiglieri, South Medford placed third and earned All-American consideration with a time of 1:27.87.

Westview finished in a state-record time of 1:26.31 and Newberg finished in 1:27.20 to slip by the Panthers, who will earn All-American status if their time is among the top 130 in the country.

"That's obviously a pretty big deal for them," said Stewart.

That same foursome placed fifth in the 400 free relay in 3:18.40.

Like Reierson, Aaron Ghiglieri shined bright in his first-ever state meet. The freshman placed third in the 100 free in 46.82 — another All-American consideration time — and was fourth in the 50 free (21.61).

"For being in their (Reierson and Aaron Ghiglieri) first state meet and in the finals and top six, they showed great poise and placed themselves well," said Stewart. "I'm looking for big things from both of them. I think they're going to be superstars in the future."

Among all the swimmers, however, Stewart said Snyder might have turned in the best performance of all in terms of stepping up his times in the pool. The junior barely missed out on making into the main finals of the 200 freestyle and 100 butterfly, but kept his composure and finished seventh in the 200 free (1:47.58) and eighth in the 100 fly (53.09).

Both marks were improvements on Snyder's already-owned school records.

"Clark had the best meet of his life," added Stewart. "He swam spectacularly."

In truth, Stewart said he had a tough time not pinning that same thought on everyone who ventured up north for the Panthers.

"The team as a whole gave every single ounce of energy they had to this meet and I couldn't be prouder of their accomplishments today," he said.

In Class 5A action, the Ashland boys team finished 10th overall thanks to a pair of top-six relay efforts.

The Grizzly boys finished fifth in the 200-yard medley relay, with Troy Robinson, Jake Gavin, Lucas Opgenorth and Robin Hasse combining to finish in 1:47.66.

In the 400-yard freestyle relay, Ashland's Opgenorth, Robinson and Hasse were joined by Johnathan Plumlee to finish sixth in 3:27.79.

Summit won the 5A boys title with 100 points, while the Grizzlies scored six points to finish 10th. Crescent Valley won the girls title with 76 points.

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 776-4488, or e-mail khenry@mailtribune.com