The state's most dominant swimming program is trying to re-establish its identity as a powerhouse this winter.
Jesuit – which won the last six 6A titles in boys and the last two in girls before the COVID-19 crisis wiped out the state meet last season – is uncertain if it has the pieces to extend its supremacy.
“It's kind of weird. It feels like we're kind of in a fog,” coach Bryan Butcher said. “We don't know, it's been two years. We don't know who's swimming, who's swimming well.
“There are so many variables now with COVID. You could go in with the greatest lineup, and then one of your kids gets COVID, and you can't go to state. I think COVID will play a role in state.”
Much has changed for the Crusaders as three swimmers who won state titles as sophomores are no longer with the team. Tennessee commit Nick Simons left Jesuit last season to move to Las Vegas. Matthias Kruetzer has opted not to compete. Fay Marie Lustria transferred to Westview.
“We're not as strong as we normally are,” Butcher said. “But the kids always surprise me. They're gung-ho. After last year, they just want to compete.”
The Crusaders didn't get much of a gauge on where they stood during the shortened 2021 season. The Metro League had virtual meets, with the only in-person competition a senior-only, season-ending meet.
This season, the Metro schedule calls for each team to participate in three three-way meets at the Tualatin Hills 50-meter pool before the district meet. Instead of having dual meets on Thursdays, the three-way meets are on Saturdays, which can conflict with club meets.
Jesuit is back to training at the nearby Mittleman Jewish Community Center and Southwest Community Center, which opened its pool last week. Other Metro teams are rotating their practices at the three Tualatin Hills pools currently operating.
Developing any sort of team continuity has been a challenge. In Jesuit's first Metro three-way meet, against Westview and Aloha, Butcher said the team was missing nearly 20 swimmers due to club conflicts and COVID protocols.
“With COVID, there's always kids gone now,” Butcher said. “Before, we had a very disciplined attendance policy, and this year we have to be more flexible. The kids that are serious are coming to practice, but there's a group that the parents are keeping at home to make sure they're not getting exposed at school.”
The Crusaders no longer have the team functions that helped them build camaraderie.
“We used to do a lot more things together, dinners and things like that, and you just can't do that anymore with COVID,” Butcher said. “The captains are trying to figure out how to get everyone together, and not do it by Zoom.
“This year it definitely is not like it used to be before COVID. The only time we feel like a real team is when we're together at the meet.”
Jesuit's boys lost much of their star power, but they still have junior Diego Nosack, who has committed to Northwestern. As a freshman, Nosack was state runner-up to Simons in the 100-yard butterfly by .15 seconds and swam a leg on the state champion 200 medley relay.
“He had a great Olympic Trials, and that momentum is still going,” Butcher said. “He's very competive. He can pretty much do anything.”
Nosack leads a group that features promising young talent in freshmen Tenzin Wangpo and Sean Neirynck and sophomore Kadyn Butcher, the coach's son who was the kicker on Jesuit's football team. The team doesn't have its usual depth, but still might have enough to contend for a seventh consecutive 6A title.
“The way they do state now, you can have a smaller team and still do fairly well, if the guys you have get into finals,” Bryan Butcher said.
The Crusaders are motivated to keep their title streak alive, but need time to come together and make a single-minded push.
“Just getting together to talk about it, we really haven't had a chance,” said Butcher, who has two new assistant coaches this season.
Jesuit's girls lineup includes junior Alaina Pitton, a member of the state champion 200 medley relay in 2020, and sophomore Sydney Wilson. The Crusaders will get a good read on where they stand by going up against Sunset, the state runner-up in 2019 and 2020, in Metro competition.
“If the girls are healthy, and they swim in the right events, they should be in the top three,” Butcher said. “We really don't know until districts what our chance are.”