By: Shawn O’Brate

LANDER – With the Fall sports season quickly approaching all eyes will be back on Lander Valley High School’s swim teams, specifically the girls’ who will be competing in the pools starting August 26th. 

One reason many local sports fans will be watching Lander girls’ swimming with a newfound attention is their ‘new’ head coach, Erik DeClue, who has been a swimming coach for the past 14 years with the Lander Swim Club–not the Lander Valley High School team. 

But, with DeClue spending so much time around Lander swimmers it would seem he’s the best choice to replace Shawna Morgan as the girls’ swim coach. 

“I’ve coached all these kids through the swim club,” DeClue said about his new LVHS squad, “the past few years [LVHS] has gotten some state titles and our team has been improving a lot.”

Last year’s season ended like many Lander swim seasons end, no matter whether it’s the boys or the girls, with a championship trophy and a strong showing to end the year. The girls ended last season as 3A co-champions with the Green River High School team after losing to the Lady Wolves in the State Swim Championships back in 2020. 

This was the first occurrence in state history where two teams shared the title, which was definitely not the plan for either team but was accepted with grace and dignity by both the Lady Tigers and Lady Wolves. 

2021’s co-championship marked the Lady Tigers’ fifth title in the past six years, with Green River’s 2020 title being the only time Lander didn’t take the trophy home, and the team knows that they can make it six-for-seven this year under new leadership.

“We keep swimming fun and engaging in our community,” Coach DeClue said, “Our program has a long history of success and that helps feed more and more young athletes into trying it out.”

DeClue knows what he has in his LVHS squad this year, mainly from coaching them through Club Swimming, but he also knows what he has because of the strong line of talent that flows through Lander.

“Our swim program is so strong because of our pipeline to kids through the swim club and Summer lessons,” DeClue explained, “we get a lot of experienced swimmers from the club and their work ethic and dedication rub off on all the swimmers that just started in Junior High or High School swimming.”

And although the goal for the team is obviously to repeat as state champions–preferably without sharing the title–the new coach has a few different goals in mind for his team.

“Our top goal is to get 80-100% qualified for state,” DeClue said about his hopes for the year, “all of them in multiple events, not just one or two. If we can break a few school records on top of that I would be thrilled.”

Some of those records will be hard to beat though. Records like Sammy Crawford’s 200 meter individual medley time of 2:12.65 which has stood for over a decade. There’s also Gwynaedd Howdyshell’s 100 meter freestyle record of 55.20 seconds that has stood since November of 2012. 

If anybody can break the record it’s likely to be one of, if not all of, the four remaining Lady Tigers’ All-State selections from last year: Emily Anderson (JR.), Alaina ‘Lainy’ Duncan (SR.), Lillyan ‘Lilly’ Hamilton (SR.) and Lara Robertson (SO.). 

With that being said, the other All-State selection from last year, Ashlon Koch, will be missing from the team after four spectacular seasons in Lander Lady Tigers’ green. Koch recorded four-straight All-State selections and will be sorely missed by the team, but that doesn’t mean that coach DeClue isn’t confident in his team.

“We have some very talented kids coming in as freshmen that will surprise people this year,” DeClue said confidently, “We also have multiple upperclassmen that need some adjustments and they’ll turn heads by the end of the season.”

Lander will surely be the team to beat and their new head coach is going to ensure that the Lady Tigers’ name still strikes fear in the hearts of opposing teams like it has for most of the past decade.