Valley Catholic boys swimmer won the 500-yard freestyle

COURTESY PHOTO: BARBARA KERR - Valley Catholic junior Ben Settle churns through the water en route to winning the Class 4A/3A/2A/1A state championship in the 500-yard freestyle at the end of February at Mt. Hood Aquatic Center.What was supposed to Ben Settle’s second-best event turned out to be state title worthy.

The Valley Catholic junior swimmer, who previously took home three individual Lewis & Clark League district championships, won a state title in the 500-yard freestyle by beating Catlin Gabel’s Nate McFaul at the Class 4A state championships back in late February. Going into state, Settle owned both the top 100-yard backstroke and 500 free times in 4A, but believed a title in the backstroke was more obtainable.

Nonetheless, Settle’s first state title was a welcome reward for a swimmer who “trains year-round.”

“It felt really good,” Settle said. “That was my first time ever winning a state title so I was really happy with it. I’m just happy to represent Valley.”

Settle said he didn’t swim a personal best time, but that didn’t matter as the junior touched the wall and turned his eyes toward the scoreboard at Mt. Hood Aquatic Center. Entering the meet with a personal-best time of 4 minutes, 42 seconds that would have won the meet, Settle took it easy and finished third in the prelims. Then, with plenty of energy and stamina left for the championship final, Settle shifted into high gear and sped home to victory at 4:43.

“I gave it all I had in the finals,” said Settle. “I was pretty excited going into it, I wasn’t too nervous at all.”SUBMITTED PHOTO - Valley Catholic junior Ben Settle (left) poses with coach Ben Karlin during the 2015 district championship meet.

Settle started the 500 strong, maintained his speed for each of the grueling laps and didn’t burn out at the end. Settle grabbed a good lead over McFaul, added onto it every 100 yards and held onto it for the win.

As excited as he was about the win in the 500 free, Settle said the victory there — and the effort it cost — essentially took him out of contention for a state title in the backstroke, an event he later took second in and his favorite event.

Settle started swimming when he was 6 years old, and while he played football and baseball during the fall and spring, he decided that he had to make a choice between his three favorite sports. Blessed with a tall physique and stamina that plays well in the pool, Settle chose to focus on swimming with an eye toward competing at the collegiate level.

“I’ve always had pretty good endurance, so the coaches saw I had potential there,” said Settle.

Beyond his individual exploits at state, Settle teamed with freshman Cyrus Niermann, junior Jacob Michel and senior David Spurgeon to help Valley’s 400-yard freestyle relay take 10th overall with a 3:41 finish. Together, those successes helped Valley take seventh in the team standings with 15 team points.

Settle could have gone to a swimming power such as Jesuit, but as a youngster who went to Valley Catholic middle school, the junior said Valley’s small size and caring culture suited him best. Still, Settle wasn’t completely sold on the swimming team at the time.

“To be honest, I didn’t think too much of the swimming back then,” said Settle with a laugh. “I wasn’t as good as I am now either, but I was working my way up. Valley was the best fit for me. We’re well rounded with athletics and academics. And I love the school spirit.”

Settle said he might not defend his state title in the 500 next year, preferring to focus on the 100 back and move down to the 200 freestyle to give himself more of a break between races and increase his chances of winning twice.

“I just have to practice hard and focus on my technique,” said Settle. “I’ll be bigger and stronger next year, so we’ll see what I can do.”

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