By Dan Woodlock
Times-Junction Sports Editor
There are plenty of reasons for optimism in regards to this year’s Willard swim team.
At least 30 of them.
The Flashes and Lady Flashes head into the 2016-17 campaign with an influx in numbers (30), including a 10-man boys squad, which is more than double what the team has carried in a number of years.
“It’s definitely exciting to see what all is happening at practices," said Willard Head Coach Ashley Wenninger, who is beginning her 16th season of coaching at WHS. “There are three different levels of swimmers to work with now, when you look at my experienced kids, my kids that swam in the summer, but not yet at the high school level and then my kids that are brand new to the sport."
Seven lettermen are back and leading the way for WHS, including Lindsay Holbrook, who will be seeking her fourth varsity letter this season. Two-year letterwinner, Kendyll Lykins, is joined by one-year varsity swimmers, Jenna Moore and Alyssa Strayer.
Willard’s boys feature three returning lettermen. Levi Hill and Gavin Buurma are both two-year lettermen, while Mitchell Carnahan earned his first letter last season.
Gone to graduation is Austin Strayer, who was the team leader in and out of the water a year ago. Strayer was a First Team NOL performer in the 200 Freestyle and 500 Freestyle and qualified for Districts in both. He now swims collegiately at Ohio Wesleyan University.
“Losing someone like Austin is a big loss for our program, but what has been awesome is how our older kids have taken the responsibility of helping and encouraging the younger ones," stated Wenninger. “Levi and Gavin have really followed in Austin’s footsteps and Lindsay and Kendyll have done the same as our two returning senior girls."
Opportunity abounds for a boys squad that had previously been relegated to just four or five members in recent seasons.
“I’m really excited to see what the boys can do," noted Wenninger. “With the amount of boys we have, it gives us the chance to really arrange our relays. Our freshmen boys have so much potential and have been swimming since they were very young."The aforementioned freshmen core includes the likes of Blake Thompson, Nick Bauer and Blake Smith. Other boys in the mix include Charlie Slone, Jaden Luna, Jonathan Delgado and Maikel Perez.
Along with the letterwinners, Willard’s 20-swimmer girls roster features junior varsity returners in Sarah Honaker, Acacia Smith, Serenity Sparkman and Keyauna Spearman, along with a core making their high school swimming debuts in Gabbie Ousley, Olivia Lowery, Kaci Carpenter, Renae Bates, Madison Clark, Mary Diaz, Hannah Eitle, Maddie Northcutt, Brittany Tuttle, Alyssa Thompson, Alyssa Beamer and Emily Jackson.
“This is a pretty competitive group," noted Wenninger. “Our girls team is still young, but you can already see how much they have improved from the first night of practice. This should definitely be a fun group to coach."
Also new to the program is Assistant Coach Steve Bauer.
“Steve has definitely been my right-hand man," said Wenninger. “He is leading our dry land work and has been a big help in all the organizing. We communicate constantly. With double the size of our team this year, he has been a huge help in so many ways already."
The WHS season begins Thursday night at Ashland University, as Willard opens up against host Ashland High School and Cloverleaf.