Last season, as a 22-year-old, first-time head coach, Marissa Olsen got thrown into the deep end of Oregon high school swimming.
Taking over for longtime Crescent Valley coach Rex Watkins – an eight-time state champion who resigned in the month leading up to the season – Olsen did more than tread water. She guided the boys to their first 5A title since 2007 and led the girls to a runner-up finish.
Now Olsen, with a year of experience under her belt, has a better feel for the challenge. And she believes the boys are in position to repeat and the girls, who won titles in 2019 and 2020, have a chance to get back on top.
“That's my advantage this season. The whole last year I was exposed to the club world, so I have a better understanding of what everybody's strengths are,” said Olsen, who also serves as the head coach for the Dallas-based Blue Dolphins club team.
“I've got a good idea of what to do and how to win again. My girls team is going to come back this year and go after that title. We have just as many talented females as we do males. I think there's just more female competition in Oregon, so it's a little bit harder of a fight for that title.”
The boys team is loaded again.
Senior Andrew Hanson, who placed second in the 200-yard freestyle and third in the 100 butterfly and was on two winning relays at state, will help show the way. His events aren't set in stone, though.
“I'd expect him to crush in the fly, at least in the relay,” Olsen said.
Sophomores Keller Evans (fourth in 100 freestyle, sixth in 100 backstroke) and Emerson Gatherum (fifth in 100 breaststroke, seventh in 200 IM) and junior Max Mikula (fourth in 500 freestyle) provide more firepower.
Four other state placers opted not to rejoin the team, but the improvement of junior Lincoln Bennett and the addition of freshman Cyprus Cheatham will help make up for it.
“We have some boys rising up and filling those spots,” Olsen said.
Bennett, who did not qualify for state last year, has excelled in club swimming with the Corvallis Aquatic Team. He could become a factor in the sprint freestyles.
“He's bloomed into a really good competitive swimmer,” Olsen said. “He's going to be a huge asset to some of our freestyle relays. He's really coming into his own with these other kids that have been at it for years.”
With the luxury of a deep roster, Olsen said that settling on a district lineup can be “a little tricky.”
“We're already starting to think that over and see how to spread out those points,” she said. “It's hard when you have swimmers that are just so fast in so many events.”
At state last year, the Raiders won the 200 medley relay and 400 freestyle relay and took sixth in the 200 freestyle relay. The relay teams look to be even more potent this season, according to Olsen.
“Last year I tried to balance and have two strong relays,” she said. “This year I'm going to even it out and go for three really strong relays, instead of just stacking two, with all the strong boys that we have.”
Senior Vivi Criscione leads the girls team, which was going for a three-peat last season but finished five points behind Churchill in the 5A meet.
Criscione, committed to Grand Canyon University, won the 500 freestyle for the second time and finished second in the 200 freestyle last season. UNLV-bound senior Viola Teglassy was runner-up in the 50 freestyle and 100 breaststroke. Sophomore Lucy Reinhardt placed second in the 500 freestyle and fourth in the 200 freestyle.
The Raiders bring back all four members of their state champion 400 freestyle relay and three from the third-place 200 medley relay. They also picked up an impact transfer from Alaska in versatile junior Mia Nappi.
“She's giving Viola a run for her money in the breaststroke,” Olsen said. “She's blown me away all season.”