Sep. 19—While Dimond High has dominated the high school girls swimming scene for the last decade-plus, a program that is on the rise and turning heads this year is Eagle River.
The Wolves' success is being spearheaded by sisters Lola and Reese Woodward, two of their best swimmers and most prominent leaders.
Patrick Garrity has been coaching at Eagle River since 2016 but has been coaching the Woodward sisters since they started swimming competitively at the Chugiak Aquatics Club, where they swim year-round.
He believes what makes the dynamic sibling duo so integral to the team's success is "not just that they are strong swimmers, they're strong leaders too."
"They go out strong in every race and in practice every day," Garrity said. "They set a tone that the other kids try to achieve. That includes the boys and the girls. They are quite an asset to the team."
Lola, 16, is a junior while Reese is a 15-year-old sophomore. They have been swimming competitively together for seven years and even though they have different go-to events, they still view each other as the top competition in practice.
"I love racing Lola," Reese said. "It's always a friendly competition."
While the older sister usually wins when they race, one discipline where her sister has the edge is in butterfly.
"I'm more backstroke and freestyle, and she's more butterfly and IM," Lola said.
Lola's skill in the backstroke was on display at last year's state meet, where she won the 100-yard backstroke in a time of 57.99 seconds.
That success has carried over into this season. Both were on the girls 200-yard medley relay team that finished first at the Big 8 Invitational in late August, ahead of perennial power and defending state champion Dimond.
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The Woodwards team up with the other pair of sisters on the roster, Lelaina and Sophia Trembath, to form the Wolves' 200-yard freestyle relay team that also finished first at the Big 8 Invite.
"It's like a sister-sister duo," Lola said. "It's so fun and actually like we're a big family."
Garrity said he has has seen tremendous growth in Lola this year, especially as a leader, while her younger sister has shown a lot of physical progress, which could lead to even stronger performances.
"Reese has really physically developed this year and is ready to uncork some super times," Garrity said.
The Wolves girls program as a whole is on the rise, with participation numbers higher this year than in most years.
"Eagle River is traditionally a smaller team with some good talent and strong work ethic," Garrity said. "This is the biggest team we've had in quite a few years, so we're able to put more girls into more events and run more relays."
The team didn't have enough swimmers to field a full roster last year but still managed to finish fifth at the state championship meet.
"We're like a little family," Reese said. "I loved having a small team because we're all so close."
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Lola participates in competitive volleyball, and Reese plays on the Eagle River soccer team and a club team during the offseason
"They're both multisport athletes, and the entire time we've worked with them, they've always been involved in many sports and been successful at all of them," Garrity said.
But once the high school swimming season gets underway, it's strictly aquatics for both.
The sisters got their passion for competitive swimming from their mother's side of the family that is full of "really big swimmers."
Outside of swimming, they like to spend their time driving around listening to music.
"We're big Drake fans," Lola said.