Sunset girls swimming goes back-to-back at state meet
How fitting is that Sunset's Class 6A state championship came down to the four friends who helped build the Apollos back into a state power?
Seniors Alayna Connor, Lindsay Swail, Angie Lindsay and sophomore Tia Lindsay stood on the preface of rarefied air. A chance at repeating as state champs is a feat few programs can ever hope to achieve. Yet there was the foursome of Apollo teammates huddled around the lane four starting block inside the Mt. Hood Community College Aquatic Center bubble, their arms wrapped around each other, skull caps nearly touching as they came together for one final pep talk.
At stake, in the 400 free relay, with Jesuit in lane five next to them, was a shot at back-to-back chips. First place in the 400 free and the blue trophy was theirs. Anything less than gold was fallback fodder.
And after a day in which their individual events perhaps didn't go the way they wanted, Sunset remained in character and stayed true to one another. Going all out, one last time, the Apollos cruised to the four-second win in the 400 free, beating Jesuit and clinching their second straight 6A trophy with 207.5 points.
"This was so, so special to do it twice," Connor said. "This isn't something that any of us will probably get to do in college even. This is why we do swimming for the really fun moments when it comes down to whoever touches the wall first, wins. It was a true celebration of what we could do. High school swimming is such a special relationship to get to share with people. I love this team so much. I can't believe we did it. I'm so proud of them. This was amazing."
How big was that 400 free relay win for the Apollos? Going into the final event, Sunset trailed Jesuit by four-and-half points. The Crusaders finished second overall for the second straight season with 205 points.
"We've been here before and we all kind of knew just how to shut it down and get the job done," Connor said. "But that by no means meant we had it. We had a job to do. We were all kind of on the verge of tears before that relay because we knew who won that would take the meet. The pressure up until then was totally off, but then we were like 'Ok, we have a chance to do it again'. All of the seniors just had a cry-fest (after the meet) because we just wanted to end it so well."
Jesuit, just as it did last year on the state stage, gave Sunset a great go of it, with junior Elise Kreutzer winning the 200 free (1:50.88) to go along with second place finishes in the 200 medley, 200 and 400 free relays. The Sunset-Jesuit rivalry, never lacking in drama or competition, took on even more significance as the two powers traded points throughout the state meet.
"Sunset has a lot of talented swimmers and a great group of girls," Kreutzer said. "We knew it was going to be tight. It really shows the two teams do a great job of competing and that we're the two strongest teams. I'm just really proud of them and all the hard work they put in and I'm proud of our team, too."
Kreutzer and Isabella Wallace went second and third in the 100 free and Sofia Nosack took second in the 500 free. Kreutzer swam on both the 200 medley and 400 free relays and scored 16 key team points for Jesuit by winning the 200 free.
"I was really proud to get that win for my team," Kreutzer said. "Honestly, I was really nervous, but I knew I just had to leave it all out in the pool. I knew it was going to be a tough race because Angie (Lindsay) is a really talented swimmer. It's still sinking in, but this is definitely cool to have the title. I'm blessed to have that opportunity."
Just days after turning 16 years old, Aloha sophomore Kaitlyn Dobler set state records in the 50 freestyle (22.35) and 100 breaststroke (59.89) to win two state championships and the Female Athlete of the Meet award.
"Coming from a smaller school with a smaller team, it's a lot of fun come here and perform like this," Dobler said. "I was the only swimmer from Aloha, but we still had a lot of people come and support me. It was really amazing and I really enjoy the time I have with my community. It hasn't really sunk in yet, but when it does I'll be really excited."
Dobler went up against Sunset senior Alayna Connor, considered a close friend away from the water, in the 50 free 'A' final, pitting two Metro League district champions together in adjacent lanes. Their friendship, at least for 22 seconds or so, had to be set aside as both stars chopped through the water and sped home toward the wall.
"I was really nervous before the race, so I tried to use the nerves to my advantage," Dobler said. "To have that competitive part between (Dobler and Connor) was really motivating. Honestly, right before the race, I had to pretend she wasn't one of my best friends. If I had thought about that, it would've made me more nervous. I just tried to clear my mind a little bit and focus on what I was swimming individually and just race her."
Sunset took the pressure off its repeat attempt back when the season began. Rather than carry the burden of being the state champ throughout the season, the Apollos put the onus on being relaxed and relatively content with their accomplishments as a team. They carried that permissiveness throughout the year into the state meet, knowing another blue trophy, another banner was gravy.
"I think that gave us the freedom to perform today," Connor said. "We came into this year holding everything really loosely. If we won it again, that'd be awesome, but if not that's ok."
For three seasons, Connor fell just a second or so shy of personal state glory, taking second in the 50 and 100 free behind Century great and future University of Arizona teammate Jaime Stone. Connor said the night before the meet she could barely sleep as she weighed the significance of her final showing in a Sunset suit, knowing a state title in the 100 free would solidify her status on the state scene even more. And with three Metro League counterparts pushing her, Connor thrived, winning the 100 free in 50.96 seconds for Sunset's only individual state title of the day.
"When you're competitive, it's hard to place second three years in a row," Connor said. "And I love Jaime Stone and having her here made me better. But it's really satisfying to get my hand on the wall first, especially as a senior in my last individual event. That felt so good. You set a goal, you work hard for it and sometimes the fourth time is the charm."
Connor, Swail, Angie Lindsay and freshman Lily Gardner won the 200 free relay (1:34). Gardner, Lily Chin, Tia and Kiki Lindsay took third in the 200 medley relay (1:50). Angie Lindsay won the 500 free (5:00.84). Tia Lindsay, battling the effects of a concussion, placed second in the 200 individual medley (2:05). Swail placed second in the 100 fly (56.21) and fourth in the 100 back (56.43). Sunset had an 'A' finalist in 10 of the 11 events.
Connor, Swail and Lindsay came to Sunset at a time when high school swimming's purpose was put under the microscope. Some elite swimmers wondered if their time was better served solely on the club circuit, rather than devoting precious practice hours to their high school teams. But these three sunny seniors stuck their flag in the sand early as freshmen. They wanted to do something great together to shoot after a common goal. And in turn, the Apollo program helped them as individuals.
"Being a part of this team helped my relationship with swimming so much," Connor said. "Swimming isn't that fun when November and December hit and it rains all the time and you don't like getting up for morning practice in the dark and coming home for evening practice in the dark. This team has helped put the 'fun' in swimming and I owe so much of where I am individually to them today. I wouldn't have done as well without them."
Aloha placed 12th with 32 points, all of which were scored by Dobler. Mountainside took 16th overall with 21 points and Southridge was 17th with 20 points. Westview was 21st with 16 points.
For more on Dobler's double up state championship day, please pick up a copy of the Valley Times or visit www.beavertonvalleytimes.com.