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Tuesday, February 1, 2000 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Boys swimming / Seamount League championships

Seattle Times South bureau

DES MOINES - The meet within the meet. The goal within the goal.

Rick Wertman always tries to find ways to challenge his Mount Rainier boys swim teams. Winning an eighth consecutive title in the Seamount League championship meet this weekend at the Hazen pool, for instance, isn't the only priority. Maybe not even the main priority. The Rams already are the heavy favorites to do that.

So Wertman has his swimmers and divers concentrating on another goal - scoring four people in the top 12 in as many events as possible. That's the maximum allowed under league rules.

"One of our goals the last three or four years is to see how many events we can score the maximum in," Wertman said. "For a team to have four or five individuals (place) in an eight-team league is pretty dominating."

Even if that fifth person can't count. It's the last meet of the year where everyone has a chance to compete.

"One thing that makes the Seamount unique is that we have an all-team culminating (league) meet," Wertman said. "Everyone on the team gets to swim. It doesn't matter who you are, you all get a chance to swim in the championship meet."

Of course, things get more selective from there with the Sea-King 3A District and 3A state meets to follow. They get far more competitive, too, with teams such as Mercer Island, Bellevue and O'Dea on hand for both. Those are the teams Wertman expects to battle for the state title. Mount Rainier has managed a top-four state finish in each of Wertman's 10 seasons. The Rams, who were third last year, have a shot to make it 11 in a row, although it won't be easy without the front-line swimmers they've had in the past.

"Certainly that (top-four) is a goal," Wertman said, "but it will be very difficult this year. We don't have as many swims (state qualifiers) at this point. But the great equalizer for us is diving, so it gives us a shot."

Ah, diving. Mount Rainier had four top-10 divers at state last year, led by runner-up Gavin Olmstead, who now dives for Stanford. Travis Thompson took third as a sophomore last year, while Eric Biviono and Jason Hagen finished eighth and ninth, respectively. They, too, are juniors, along with Chris Norris, who also qualified for state last year but failed to place.

The Rams have seven quality divers and all but one, freshman A.J. Koenig, have met the state qualifying standard. Freshman Andrew Keane and Matt Midgett, new to the sport this year, are among the qualifiers. The problem is that the Rams can send only four of them to state. Which four is up to diving coach Todd Wollenweber.

"Todd gets to make that choice," Wertman said.

And it will be a tough one that can't be based solely on how they fare this weekend.

"We're going to try to come up with some system to make sure our best divers get the best chance," Wertman said. "On any given day, a diver can be on hitting his dives or not."

Wertman credits Wollenweber, in his second year with the team, for Mount Rainier's success in that event.

"Without question he's the best high-school diving coach in the state, based on his experience, his expertise and his ability to work with kids," Wertman said.

The diviers give the Rams a legitimate shot at another state trophy.

"To be in the top four, you've got to score maybe 140 points," Wertman said. "We have an opportunity to score 50 or 60 just in diving. That plus some solid performances in the relays give us a legitimate chance. Whether we're able to capitalize on it is more difficult to determine at this point. But the guys want to keep that streak going."

Speaking of streaks, the Rams went unbeaten through the league dual-meet season for the eighth consecutive season. They last lost a Seamount dual meet back in 1992.

The Seamount League championship meet begins Friday at 5 p.m., with the finals Saturday at 5 p.m.

Copyright (c) 2000 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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