HELENA — If you knew nothing about high school swimming in the state of Montana, it would take you less than five minutes to figure out the boys to watch at the state championships Friday and Saturday in Great Falls are Parker Keller and Robert Wagner. 

Keller, a senior at Helena High, will be competing in the 100-yard breaststroke, 200 IM, 200 freestyle relay and 400 freestyle relay. Wagner, a junior at Helena, will be swimming the 100 butterfly, 100 backstroke, the 500 freestyle, the 200 freestyle relay and the 400 freestyle relay. 

Missoula Hellgate has been the dominant force over the past six years in Class AA, but Helena High has a real shot at dethroning the Knights — assuming Keller and Wagner are their usual selves.

"I think the Helena boys are going to run away with both of the freestyle relays, so that’s pretty exciting," says coach Julia Shannon. "They should run away with a title as well. So, that’ll be good. We have several kids that should be state champions."

For each individual event they are competing in, they have logged the best time in the state this season. For both relays Keller and Wagner are swimming, Helena has logged the best time in the state

"We’re looking to win the state title and to do that we have to sweep all our events," Wagner says. "So, I have to win the 100 backstroke and the 500 freestyle. The 100 backstroke is going to be a real challenge against (Missoula Sentinel’s) Bremer Deaton."

This season at MHSA events, Deaton's best time (54.43) is nearly a second-and-a-half slower than Wagner's (53.15). 

While the Bengals may have two of the best swimmers in the state, Hellgate's depth is a significant reason why they have become a Class AA dynasty. Bozeman will be difficult to beat for the same reason.

In addition to possibly leading his team to a state title, the Providence College-bound Keller will be defending his individual state championship and chasing the state record in the 100 breaststroke. 

"I went to Junior Nationals in Federal Way (Washington) and had my best times in all my races," Keller says. "I did shave and taper for that meet so that I could get the time drop that I was going for. But since that meet I have not shaved or tapered, and I’ve been consistently getting close to my best times. So as long as I can keep the intensity up when I get down there, I know that if I shave and taper again I’ll be able to get past those barriers.”

In swimming, tapering refers to the amount of physical exertion during practices leading up to an event. With something like the state championships looming in just a few days, swimmers will lighten their workload so the added rest and adrenaline will provide an extra boost.

Keller's time in the 100 breaststroke at the Junior Nationals in December 2019 was 56.56. The state record is 55.97. The All-American time standard which he is also chasing is 55.86.

"Me and (assistant coach) Kyle Kallin have really been focusing on my underwaters in the breaststroke and my tempo," Keller says. "So, as long as I can keep the tempo and my underwaters good, I should be able to get that record. Also the All-American time standard is right there, too. So, we’re really pushing for that 55 (seconds) in the 100 breaststroke to get that state record. And I’d also like to win both my events at state, too."

Similar to his teammate, Wagner also recently prepared for an event by shaving and tapering. 

"About the same time he went to Junior Nationals, I was at a swim meet in Oregon where I was also shaved and tapered," the defending 100 fly state champion explains. "And we have been working on getting faster. Our coach has been kicking our butts during practice and we’re ready to taper for this meet."

The state meet will cap the fifth season for Shannon as head coach for both Helena and Helena Capital. She was pleased to see improvement throughout the roster. 

"I think the season went really well," Shannon says. "We saw improvement across the board, from the slower swimmers up to the faster ones."

Matthew Kiewiet covers high school and community sports for the Independent Record and 406mtsports.com. Email him at matthew.kiewiet@406mtsports.com or follow him on Twitter @IRmattkiewiet.

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