Today will mark the seventh and final state championship trip for Dave Huffmire as head coach of Carson High School's swimming and diving program.
Huffmire and the Senators have returned home with eight team championships, and they're looking to add to that list at the NIAA/U.S. Bank State Championships in Las Vegas.
Carson's girls are poised to capture their fifth straight state title and seventh in eight years, and the Senators' boys will take a shot of their own during competition, which begins with diving at 8:30 a.m. and swimming events at 1 p.m. in UNLV's Buchanan Natatorium.
"I'd like to bring back two," said Huffmire, who has announced this will be his final season as head coach at Carson. "I think we have a chance to bring back the girls, and you never know with the boys. If we get some great swims down there, it could happen."
Sisters Julie and Kate Hardt join Megan Keller, Jessie Hong and Tara Theilemann in leading Carson's bid for another girls title. The Senators finished second behind Reno at the Northern 4A zone meet last Saturday in Carson City, but state figures to be a little different story.
Team points at zone were awarded through 16 places, a format that favors Reno's depth. The state meet only has eight entries in each event, which negates some of that depth and figures more favorably for the Senators, who won four individual events and all three relays at zone.
"Our girls team, I think, will win it," said Julie Hardt, who earned high school All-America honors in each of her four state meet events last year. "It won't be a clean sweep, and it won't be easy, but I think we have a good chance. And our guys team will be top three if they do well."
Eight state meet records fell in the girls events last year, including Julie Hardt's records while winning the 200-yard individual medley (2:03.61) and 500 freestyle (4:56.57). Hardt will try to break her own record in the 500 freestyle - she went 4:53.04 last weekend at zone. Hardt has now added the 200 freestyle, an event she won in 1:50.84 while leading a 1-2-3 Carson sweep at zone.
Her closest competition in those events today figure to be her own teammates. Younger sister Kate Hardt (1:53.34) and Theilemann were second and third respectively in the 200 freestyle at zone, and Lauren Costella finished second in the 500 freestyle (5:04.74).
To put the strength of Carson's squad into perspective, here's a couple of other points to consider. The Hardt sisters and Costella have all achieved qualifying standards for the U.S. Olympic Trials. Julie Hardt, a senior who has signed with NCAA champion Georgia and also a former Goodwill Games competitor, was ranked 11th in the world in the 1,500-meter freestyle and No. 18 in the 400 freestyle in 1999, according to the USA Swimming Web site.
Two other Division I signees, Evan Fischer (Tennessee) and Ryan Costella (Villanova), along with freshman Justin Barber, will lead Carson's hopes on the boys side. Fischer won the 100 breaststroke and finished second in the 200 I.M. , while Barber and Costella placed second and fourth respectively in the 500 freestyle. The three also combined with Joe Hurzel to win the 400 freestyle relay.
Reno comes in as the Northern Region champion and Silverado as the top team from the South, but the Senators hope to be in the thick of the team race.
"We want to do well; this is the last shot for us seniors," said Fischer, who comes in with the fastest qualifying time in the 100 breaststroke.
"Between Reno, Silverado and us, it's pretty close," Costella said. "We have a diver now, and he really improved last week. If he does well again, that could help us a lot."
Pat Binder, a junior in just his second season as a competitive diver, placed third at zone with a score of 270.85, just 41 points out of first-place.
"Pat has worked hard with Sam (Hardt, diving coach), and now it's paying off," Huffmire said. "This is the first time we've had a diver at state in two or three years ... and everything helps out."
Regardless of the outcome, Huffmire is excited about his final meet as Carson's coach.
"Win or lose, this has been my most satisfying year," Huffmire said. "It's been a good run."