There was a time this season when the Brighton swim team was constantly roaming. One day practice would be at Skyline, another day at Park City. With all the bouncing around, the Bengals would struggle to swim to their potential.
Now at the week of the state meet, everything is as it should be.
The Bengals are back at the renovated Cottonwood Recreation Center. And once again, both the boys and girls squads appear to be prepared for a title defense.
“This being my senior year, it’s our last hoorah,” captain Tanner Wiest says. “We’ve really gotten up for this season. We want to be the best.”
After winning Region 3, Brighton appears to be the early favorite to win its fourth straight boys championship and third straight girls championship at the Class 5A state meet at BYU on Friday and Saturday. In the pool, there are few teams that generate more respect.
It’s hardly been a cakewalk.
The Brighton boys dealt with an injury to their best swimmer. Long Gutierrez, a rangy junior who set the 5A mark in the 200-yard medley and 100-yard butterfly last year, broke both of his elbows during the offseason and is still trying to recover.
His times haven’t quite gotten back to record level — he’s not even the top-seeded racer in his individual competitions. But his confidence is nearing where it was pre-injury.
“It’s been a long road getting back, and there’s been a lot of training to do,” Gutierrez says. “I don’t know if it’s true, but it feels like I’m stronger than I was before.”
The boys have six senior swimmers in the state meet to buoy their hopes, but the girls have only two. It’s been an entirely different dilemma from that perspective, as the team had to learn to move on after the graduation of Amanda Barrett, whose name is sprinkled throughout the record books.
There will be no particular superstar keeping the Bengals atop the team title chase this year. The only way they’ll come out on top — particularly against a strong Bingham team — is by getting great swims out of everyone on the roster.
That includes freshmen Julianna Woodland and Olivia Nelson. The duo says they never thought their turn at the state meet would come so soon. With underclassmen playing such a large role — freshman Katy Daggett even made the top heat for the 200- and 500-yard freestyle events — they know they’ll have to cut time and score points if there’s to be any chance of a threepeat.
“When you don’t have one swimmer dominating, you feel more responsible for your own race,” Woodland says. “You don’t have to get first place and 20 points, but there’s definitely a lot of pressure to swim better than your seed and to place higher.”
Coach Todd Etherington says he initially had concerns about his team. He didn’t see some of the flashes of brilliance that he usually spots early in the season.
But he added that one area the Bengals always shined in was dedication.
“I don’t think we really had a decent meet until late in December,” he says gruffly. “But I think they’ve had a lot of things to deal with, and they’ve handled it well. It took a lot of patience to stick with swimming when we didn’t have one place to swim.”
Of course, a little extra motivation never hurts. For Brighton, it’s a loss to Skyline in a dual meet earlier in the season. The girls lost narrowly, but the boys were crushed. For the seniors in the class, it was the only dual meet the boys had ever lost.
The Bengals girls have a slim margin for error this weekend. The boys have more breathing room. But both aren’t just competing against the swimmers who are lining up alongside them — they’re swimming for records, to make up for the blemish on their records, to be their absolute best.
And that’s when opponents can expect Brighton to do what it has done the last few years: win.
“We know we’re not invincible,” Wiest said. “We learned that from Skyline. But we’ve definitely stepped it up so we can still have state. We’ve been waiting to take it ever since.”
Brighton’s key swimmers
Tanner Wiest • No. 1 seed in 100 butterfly, No. 3 seed in 50 freestyle
Long Gutierrez • No. 5 seed in 100 butterfly, No 7 seed in 200 medley (state record-holder in both)
Kaitlyn Overstreet • No. 1 seed 100 backstroke, No. 3 seed in 100 butterfly
Katy Daggett • No. 2 seed in 500 freestyle, No. 4 seed in 200 freestyle