Bend's girls swim team celebrates winning its fourth 5A championship since 2015 in last year's state meet at Tualatin Hills.
Bend's girls swim team celebrates winning its fourth 5A championship since 2015 in last year's state meet at Tualatin Hills.

Bend's triumphant return to 5A girls swimming last season could signal the start of something much bigger for the Lava Bears.

Bend – the 5A champion in 2015, 2017 and 2018 before spending four seasons in 6A – is setting up for a repeat and possibly more. The Lava Bears head into this season with a loaded squad that compares favorably to a year ago, according to coach Brandon Powers.

“Way stronger, a lot stronger,” said Powers, who is in his seventh season in the program, and third as head coach. “This is the best girls team I've seen since I started coaching at Bend High.”

Junior Kamryn Meskill, who has committed to North Carolina, is the catalyst. Meskill won a 6A title in the 50-yard freestyle as a freshman at Caldera before transferring to Bend.

In last season's state meet, Meskill won the 50 freestyle, set a 5A meet record in winning the 100 butterfly (55.53 seconds) and swam legs on two freestyle relay teams that broke 5A meet records.

Meskill is in top form early in the season, as indicated by her performance in the Speedo Winter Junior Championships West meet Dec. 6-9 in Westmont, Ill. She set a personal best in the 50 freestyle (22.84) and placed sixth in the 100 butterfly.

“She always wants to be there and step up for the team,” Powers said of Meskill, who holds school records in the 50 freestyle and 100 butterfly. “I don't know if she wants to go for the same races this season. She might go after the breaststroke or the I.M. this year.”

The Lava Bears' other reigning individual champion is sophomore Maddie Thornton, who won the 5A title in the 100 backstroke and was runner-up in the 200 freestyle. Thornton also swam on the record-setting relay teams.

“I see her going after the 100 backstroke again, especially since she's already two seconds faster than last year's time,” Powers said of Thornton, who clocked a personal-best 54.88 in the backstroke during prelims at the Winter Junior Championships West meet. “And I think she'll go after the 200 freestyle again.”

Bend added an impact transfer in sophomore Emma Bronson, who had a big freshman season for Mountain View. In the 5A meet, Bronson was runner-up to Meskill in the 100 butterfly, placed seventh in the 50 freestyle and swam on a 200 medley relay team that set a 5A meet record.

Senior Jacqueline Horning, who swam on both record-setting relays at state, also is back. The fourth member of the freestyle relays, Grace Benson, has graduated, but the Lava Bears still have enough talent to contend in all three relays.

“The girls want to get their names on the 200 medley relay,” Powers said.

Powers said that junior Hadley Hayes, who also competed in the Winter Junior Championships West meet, will debut in the 200 medley relay this season.

The Lava Bears also got an infusion of promising freshmen from Bend Swim Club with distance freestylers Ayla Dodak, Rebekah Williams and Ellie Goldblatt.

Powers, who coaches for Bend Swim Club, said the freshmen are “on the same performance track” as club teammates Meskill, Thornton, Bronson, Horning and Hayes. He said the club is producing more elite competitors.

“Typically in the past, we didn't have a lot of kids in this upper echelon of swimming, like Junior Nationals,” Powers said. “It's awesome to see that our program on the club side has grown to reach for those higher-echelon swim meets. It brings everything from the lower end of the team all the way up.”

Powers said that crosstown rival Summit, which finished third at state last year, will push Bend in 5A. The Lava Bears are counting on their elite talent and depth to carry them through.

“Last year I brought 10 swimmers to state,” Powers said. “I think this year I could bring about 20.”