Taliah Black swam on two all-league relay teams for the Wildcats last fall. (Photo by John Fisken)

Fall prep preview / Oak Harbor swim and dive

It’s quality over quantity for the Oak Harbor High School swim and dive team this fall.

Amy Merkley is returning as coach after taking several seasons off and will be joined by eight letter winners.

The veterans are a talented bunch, led by state qualifiers Olivia Tungate, Jillian Pape and Taliah Black.

Tungate was first-team, all-Wesco North in the 100 backstroke and 100 freestyle, and Pape was first team in the 50 free.

The pair joined Black and graduated senior Molly Vagt on the first-team 200 medley and 200 free relay teams.

Tungate finished fourth in the 100 back and ninth in the 100 free at the 2016 state meet; Pape was sixth in the 50 free and 13th in the 100 butterfly; and the 200 medley relay team took sixth and the 200 free squad 14th.

Also back are letter winners seniors Naomi Garcia and Baelee Whitinger; junior Kelly Gruenwald; and sophomores Grace Chargualaf and Frances Empinado.

Key newcomers, according to Merkley, are freshmen Ashleigh Merrill and Caitlin Dennen.

Another newcomer is dive coach River Powers.

“Our strength is in our senior leadership,” Merkley said. “We also have a number of returning lettermen and NWAC swimmers who lead by example. Overall, the team is exhibiting a strong work ethic and I’m very encouraged that they will accomplish much this swim and dive season.”

The squad has only 23 members, so the lack of depth is a concern, according to Merkley.

“When combined with less pool time and access, it can be challenging to get beginning swimmers ready to compete in all strokes and events at the varsity level,” she said.

Merkley’s expectations are for her team to focus on its goals.

“One team goal is to get as many swimmers as possible qualified for districts and state. The district times are more difficult this year, but the swimmers are determined.”

Oak Harbor (8-2 last year) starts the season with a double duel meet with the Marysville high schools at 5:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 11, at John Vanderzicht Memorial Pool.