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Everything looks different at the North Coast Section swimming championships. Athletes seem to swim faster, crowds seem to cheer louder. But the pool looking longer? That’s a new one.

For Kelseyville’s Nick Dobusch and Max Madrzyk, the pool at Las Positas College in Livermore is in fact longer than the pool the Knights use to train. Three yards longer, in fact.

The Knights for the last few years have used a community pool not built for racing, not designed for training and not terribly conducive to building fast swimmers. But the Knights are building fast swimmers despite it all.

“It’s a 22-yard pool and we are only authorized to use it four days a week,” Kelseyville swim coach Agustin Merodio said. “It’s a four-foot pool, no lanes, no lines at the bottom.”

“We can’t do race starts. We have no diving blocks,” he said. “At our dual meets I’m always joking, ‘We’ll teach you how to dive today.’ It’s kind of like a ‘Bad News Bears’ type of thing.”

And still, Dobusch, a sophomore, and Madrzyk, a junior, have earned spots at the NCS championship meet this weekend, along with a group of other local swimmers. Dobusch is the highest local seed in the 100-yard butterfly at 19th, while also making it in the 100-yard backstroke, where he is seeded 30th. Madrzyk is the 36th seed in the 50-yard freestyle.

While racing in a pool three yards longer than the one he trains in — especially in a 50-yard sprint — might be a tall order for Madrzyk, the meet will be no cakewalk for the rest of the local swimmers who qualified to compete starting Friday.

The 40 fastest times in qualifying league meets earned a spot in the NCS meet and only the top 16 advance to Saturday. The top eight swim in the A final and 9-16 swim in the B final.

“Making the finals in NCS is a really tough thing to do,” said Maria Carrillo coach Rick Niles.

But a good number of locals have a shot at doing just that.

Montgomery junior Julie Kwan is seeded highest among area swimmers in any race, having grabbed the fourth seed in the 200-yard individual medley. Also in the mix in that race are Maria Carrillo junior Taylor Scobey at 18th, Montgomery junior Tessa Oliver at 19th, Fort Bragg junior Haley Hutchinson at 24th and Santa Rosa senior Rachel Pride at 33rd.

“She will come up and surprise people. She is a fighter,” Montgomery coach Donita Flecker said of Kwan. “She can get up there, quiet, and not really noticeable, but boom — when the timer goes off, she explodes off the block. She is very competitive.”

And Niles likes Scobey’s chance in the 200-yard medley, in part because she flew at the North Bay League finals last weekend.

“She did drop five seconds from her season best,” he said. “She popped out a pretty good one.”

“She’s a gamer, especially on that last 50,” he said.

Despite her terrific seed, Kwan might have more than the competition to stare down this weekend. Felled by the flu Sunday, she did not train Monday or Tuesday.

“Being sick reminds me how much I love swimming,” she said.

“I’d like to get to the A final,” she said. “I think I have a pretty good shot. We’ll see how it goes.”

Kwan is ranked ninth in the 100-yard backstroke. She is the only local swimmer to qualify in that race.

St. Vincent sophomore Corban McIntosh is the sole local swimmer in the 100-yard breaststroke, where he is ranked seventh. McIntosh will also race in the 200-yard medley, where he comes in ranked 19th.

Windsor High sophomore Connor Wong will also race the medley. He is ranked 29th.

Santa Rosa’s David Mertz is within striking distance in the 500-yard freestyle in which he is ranked ninth. Maria Carrillo’s Cameron Flood is ranked 36th in that race.

Mertz, a junior, is ranked 18th in the 200-yard freestyle.

Fellow Panther Megan Jones, also a junior, is seeded 11th heading into the 500-yard freestyle but her qualifying time of 5:12.47 is well off of her personal best — so Jones could make a move in that race. Montgomery junior Lea Marion is ranked 24th.

Jones is also the top local qualifier in the 200-yard freestyle in which she is seeded 21st. Sonoma Valley sophomore Charlotte Hunter is seeded 32nd.

Santa Rosa’s Pride is ranked 15th in the 100-yard breaststroke, ahead of Hutchinson of Fort Bragg (21st), Marion of Montgomery (28th) and Ana Larson, a sophomore from Petaluma High who comes in at 29th.

Hutchinson is making her third trip to NCS, a first for Fort Bragg, according to coach Kayla Davis.

Hutchinson made the meet her freshman year and advanced to the final last year as a sophomore.

“It’s really exciting for our program,” she said. And Hutchinson is swimming some of her best times.

“I believe that her seed times are right on her PRs,” she said.

Competing with Kelseyville’s Dobusch in the 100-yard butterfly is Windsor’s Wong at 21st and Santa Rosa freshman Justin Wong at 34th.

El Molino senior Ben Zeigler leads all locals in the 100-yard backstroke in which he is ranked 22nd, ahead of Dobusch at 30th and Santa Rosa’s Wong at 39th.

Montgomery’s Oliver is the only local swimmer to make the meet in the 100-yard butterfly, coming in ranked 26th.

Technology High freshman Rea Smith is seeded 21st in the 50-yard freestyle.

Area teams qualified a number of relay squads, including the Montgomery girls’ 200-yard medley squad at 23rd position and Santa Rosa at 27th. Analy’s squad missed the cut in that race by a tenth of a second and Maria Carrillo lost out by three-tenths of a second.

The Santa Rosa boys will race as the 27th seed in the 200-yard medley.

Local schools are well represented in the 400-yard freestyle relay, with Montgomery racing in 22nd position, Sonoma Valley seeded 30th, Maria Carrillo 31st, Santa Rosa 33rd and Cardinal Newman 36th.

Santa Rosa’s boys are seeded 30th in the 400-yard freestyle relay and Sonoma Valley is ranked 37th.

The NCS meet is a great place to make one’s mark, but it ain’t easy. The athletes who qualify to swim Saturday are Division I college prospects.

“A lot of these swimmers might even be going to the Olympic trials someday,” Montgomery’s Flecker said. “That is how fast these kids are. They are truly amazing athletes.”

For Merodio, after watching his team dealing with a 22-yard pool that is 4-feet deep all season, just watching his two swimmers take to the water in a legitimate pool with legitimate competition is going to be a thrill unto itself.

Especially for Madrzyk, who is making his first trip to the section meet.

“I hope he betters his time for sure,” he said. “Just being there, it’s his first trip. The energy from the meet, the adrenaline rush — I think he’s going to do really well.”

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 707-526-8671 or kerry.benefield@pressdemocrat.com, on Twitter @benefield and on Instagram at kerry.benefield. Podcasting on iTunes and SoundCloud “Overtime with Kerry Benefield.”

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