Jason Alentado won the Division II 200 individual medley state title last year and finished second in the 100 fly.
This year, the Catalina Foothills junior is set to defend his championship and possibly win another while he tries to lead the Falcons to their 12th consecutive team title.
However, with Foothills now in Division I and going up against perennial power Phoenix Brophy, it will be harder than ever. Brophy has won 31 of the last 32 state championships at Arizona's highest level.
"Like everybody else, when you face Brophy, everyone's got to bring their A-game," said coach Ed Walter in his first year after replacing R.J. Lundstrom, who retired.
Here's a look at how Alentado will take over as team leader and repeat as champion:
1. He's speaking up more. Foothills lost last year's leader Cole Puchi to graduation, but Alentado is ready to assume Puchi's role.
"I don't mind it, I think I like being the leader," Alentado said. "I like motivating people and having people work harder, and I like teaching the freshmen how to carry on our tradition.
He also said it's not an entirely new role for him because he's a leader on his club team.
Alentado has leaned on sophomore Joen Brynnel to help with the leadership role.
"He's like a middle man between me and the younger kids," Alentado said. "He was there last year so it's fresh in his mind on how to help them to know what to do."
2. He's more confident. Alentado said his first individual title was a surprise. He won the 200 IM in 1 minute 57.58 seconds.
"It just felt good, I was really proud of myself and all the hard work I put into the sport," he said.
He was on the state champion 200 freestyle relay team his freshman year and swam the third leg of the 200 medley relay squad last year, which won in 1:39.63.
He said his state individual title motivates him even more to win it again this year, especially against stronger competition.
"I think about the people that I'll be racing at state, and having to hold off to win, every day in practice," he said. "I just remember that I've already won it; I just need to defend."
3. He's improved all around. Last month, Alentado swam in the 100 fly and 200 fly at the USA Junior Nationals at Stanford after qualifying in a club meet in Texas. Not only did that push him more, it gave him experience against some of the top talent in the country.
"I've already seen how it will be going in against people that are bigger and older than me and much faster," he said. "It's not going to be a real shock when I go to state and see Brophy destroying everyone."
Alentado said his biggest improvement is in the breast stroke leg of the 200 IM.
"I was lacking that last year," he said. "I've just improved a lot and have been working on my technique on all the strokes which will definitely pay off at the end of the season."
He credits Walter along with the rest of his coaches for helping him improve.
"I've been training a lot harder and I think I've become a better overall swimmer in each stroke which will help with my 200 IM," Alentado said.
2011 Watch List
Sara Borendame, Jr., Ironwood Ridge
Meredith Byl, Sr., Salpointe Catholic
Carly Croman, Jr., Salpointe Catholic
Danielle Emami, Jr., Catalina Foothills
Claire Houlton, Sr., Catalina Foothills
Maggie McCord, Sr., Canyon del Oro
Alexandria Nickles, Jr., Ironwood Ridge
Michaela Valentine, Jr., Sabino
Carly Wilson, Sr., Tanque Verde
Kelsey Wuoti, Jr., Mountain View
Jason Alentado, Jr., Catalina Foothills
Nathan Belch, So., Catalina Foothills
Jordan Belton, Sr., Canyon del Oro
Joen Brynnel, So., Catalina Foothills
Tyler Mattingly, Sr., Salpointe Catholic
J.T. Oliver, Sr., Sabino
Reed Patterson, Sr., Rincon/University
Craig Simmons, So., Ironwood Ridge
JoJo Simonson, Sr., Salpointe Catholic
Brandon Young, Sr., Douglas
Athletes chosen by Star staff in consultation with area coaches