Connor, Sunset girls swimming wins Metro League
At the end of the lane three, at the very edge of the pool, Alayna Connor, Claire Westlake, Lindsay Swail and a host of Sunset girls swimmers crouched down and got as close to the water as humanly possible.
At the other end of the Tualatin Hills Park and Recreation Swim Center pool stood Kiki Lindsay, a freshman with a world of promise, on the starting blocks about to knife into the cold water against Jesuit's Hannah Cooley, considered one of the best 100-yard breaststrokers in the state.
As Lindsay eventually dolphin-kicked off the wall and turned back, there was Connor, Swail and company, screaming and slapping the THPRSC concrete, encouraging their young teammate, cheering on the precocious freshman as she stayed on Cooley's heels. For every flip turn, for every breath Lindsay sought in between strokes, there were her teammates, two-deep, all smiles, all uplifting, all unified for one cause.
There's something rare about Sunset's team chemistry that can't be feigned. They're not too cool to care.
And if you're searching for a reason why the Apollos came out on top against Jesuit in a head-to-head battle that decided the Metro League district crown, start there.
With its team chemistry acting as the backbone and the Crusaders' talented cache of weapons operating as the motivation, Sunset clinched its Metro crown with an 89-81 victory over the Crusaders on Feb. 1.
"This is the most fun we've had at an actual meet this year because we had to really race for it," Connor said. "It's more fun that way. We had a whole hype squad show up. Our mascot came. Our athletic director (Pete Lukich) came. People are starting to notice Sunset swimming. It's awesome. I love this team. We're on a good streak."
"It's important for a team to be focused on the team aspect," Westlake said. "Sure, individual points are really substantial and important, but you have to be centered in the team. That's what really gets us going, I think."
"When we set our minds to it and really focus, we can do whatever we need to do to get it done," Swail said. "We're excited to keep grinding it out and see what happens."
In what was the first of two high-stake face-offs between the two flagship programs, Jesuit certainly came to play. Emma Matous won the 200 individual medley (2:09.60) and Cooley ended up beating Kiki Lindsay in the 100 breaststroke. The Crusaders 200 medley relay began the day with a 1:49 victory.
Yet, cohesion aside, Sunset's velocity and energy in the pool were paramount in toppling the Crusaders, who as always, were formidable foes. Sunset finished with six first places, two seconds and won two of the three relays (the 200 and 400 free), which was critical in the team score. Connor swept the sprints, winning the 50 free (23.82) by two seconds and the 100 (52.34) by a second. Swail won the 100 fly by four seconds and out-touched Jesuit star Sofia Nosack in the 100 back by hundredths of a second. And, Angie Lindsay won the 200 free (1:54.76) and 500 free (5:13.85) for the Apollos. The defending 6A state champions, led by their senior core, wanted to close the regular season soundly.
"All of the seniors kind of got together before the race and said we wanted to finish strong just for our coaches and the team and what it's given us," Connor said.
Sunset competed without the services of Tia Lindsay, an integral piece of the Apollo lineup, who missed the meet with a concussion. However, Tia Lindsay is slated to cleared medically this week, paving the way for the Apollos as they start preparing for the Class 6A state championship next week.
"We can't lose sight of keeping focus," Westlake said. "This isn't it for us. We still have a lot of work to do. We have to have fun and keep things in perspective. We have to be competitive, but this is high school swimming and we're all here to have fun and a really awesome meet. Working so hard and seeing the results, it's cool."
Connor acknowledged she wasn't sure Sunset could beat Jesuit's full roster without Tia Lindsay. Plus, with finals wrapping up, the sleep-deprived, running-on-fumes Apollos weren't at their peak. But it was the opportune performances of youngsters like Kiki Lindsay and Lily Gardner and the clutchness of Rachel Chin on the relays on top of Sunset's stars living up to the billing that aided Sunset's team point total.
"Our freshmen stepped up big today," Connor said. "Kiki had two best times today and absolutely went for it. Lily went for it in the 100 fly and didn't choke up in the 200 free or on either of our relays. We had great swims from them. And the same goes for Angie Lindsay, to get out fast in the 200 and 500 against her club teammates, which I knew she was nervous about. She took it out hard and just kept going."
Connor, Swail and Westlake showered a profuse amount of praise on head coach Adam Farber for not only getting the maximum amount of points by putting his swimmers in the best races possible but also providing a calming influence and positive reinforcement.
"Adam is a superstar," Westlake said. "He knows the logistical side. He gets the whole system of lineups and meets and how to get us to practice hard. But he also gives us great support. You need a coach to be there for you and help you through the process."
"He's our behind-the-scenes magician," Connor said of Farber. "We couldn't do this without him and how he plans it out."
Sunset, Jesuit and the rest of the Metro League will race at the district championship meet on Friday and Saturday this week. Preliminaries on Friday and the finals begin Saturday afternoon at THRPD.