Kaitlyn Dobler, Jessica Maeda win Metro district titles
Pushing a set of plastic chairs along the edge of the Tualatin Hills Aquatic Center pool, Sunset athletic director Pete Lukich scooted past an intently listening Aloha superstar Kaitlyn Dobler and lobbed a compliment that might have been a little dated for the teen, but hit home with the older gaggle surrounding the Olympic hopeful.
"Excuse me, Spitz," Lukich said with a smile.
Spitz, as in Mark Spitz, the nine-time United States gold medalist swimmer who ruled the 1970's and is one of the country's most glorified Olympic athletes ever. The candid remark spoke to the reverence that the Metro League district and the state as a whole hold for Dobler. In June, the Aloha senior will compete at the Olympic trials in Omaha, Nebraska with a real shot to make the U.S. team and qualify for the 2020 games in Tokyo. As a USC signee with the world ahead of her and Olympic dreams to chase, Dobler is nationally known already.
But her dedication to her school, Aloha community and the Warrior program has never been stronger. Even as she's risen the ranks as one of the nation's elite youth swimmers, her focus first and foremost is on the Aloha swimming team and making it about "we, not me". Dobler dominated her two district events, rolling to wins in the 50 freestyle and 100 breastroke at Tualatin Hills Aquatic Center on Feb. 15. When her name was announced over the loudspeaker, Dobler received a huge round of applause from the fans who came to see work in her person. Her Warrior teammates, those competing in districts and those who didn't, upwards of 15 kids, crowded the end of her patented lane four for each race yelling and hollering her on as she hit the wall and whooshed into her flip turn.
"It's really cool seeing how many people are supporting me and it's motivating and makes me go faster," Dobler said. "They didn't have to come today, so it was really nice for them to show up and cheer me on. They've been supporting me for a really long time, so I'm glad to swim for them."
Dobler is beloved, by her teammates, classmates and fellow competitors. She's unassuming and humble, hardworking and competitive, but caring. One of her biggest supporters is Mountainside junior Jessica Maeda, a Metro superstar in her own right. Maeda won a district title in the 200 free and took second in the 100 breastroke to Dobler. For the first lap or so, Maeda stayed within range of Dobler, pushing her from a body length away. Eventually, as she does so often down the stretch, Dobler roared away for the win. But it was compelling watching two great competitors challenge one another to drop time and do their respective best.
"They help each other and drive each other in the water," Aloha head coach Lisa Leslie said of Maeda and Dobler. "I think it's about them being there for each other. Jessica is amazing. You saw what she did in the 200 (free). And she swam one of the best races I've seen her swim with Kaitlyn today. That was really fun as well."
"Racing Kaitlyn is awesome," Maeda said. "She's such a great person. I love racing her. I always try to hang in there with her for as long as I can. I always feel her presence. It's always there and it's just so great. Even when she's ahead of me I try to push myself. She really motivates me to be the best swimmer that I can be and the best person I can be."
Maeda, a noted 200 individual medley swimmer, said she didn't train for the 200 free during the regular season but made a last-minute change to her postseason events at the end of January. Maeda explained she didn't feel she was as consistent in the 200 IM during the year, so she went back to the 200 free, an event she swims during senior sectionals in March. Maeda has the best 200 free time at the 6A level by more than four seconds, despite swimming on Mountainside's 200 medley team just one event before takeoff.
"My goal is always to swim as fast as I can," Maeda said. "It's crazy. Winning, in general, is awesome. I really appreciate all the support my team has given me. The relay before really killed me, so that first 50 I was so tired. But I had to do it for my team. I know they were all standing down there, cheering me on, wanting to see me win and achieve my goals. That really helps me a lot."
Dobler was more juiced up about her Warrior teammates making the finals than her own swims. During a high school meet, Dobler is Aloha's best cheerleader, the consummate captain investing in the team concept.
"For her teammates to show her the love that she shows them all time when they're swimming is the most important thing in my mind's eye," Leslie said. "It's her Aloha family and the community supporting her and her giving all of herself. We all know what she can do in the water. I think it's what she does to represent Aloha, the Dolphins (Swim Club) and swimming in general in the state of Oregon because I think they're all just so proud of her. Everyone considers her one of their own. She's a part of this whole community. She just wants to be 'Kaitlyn in the Water' not 'Kaitlyn the Superstar'. That's not who she is deep down inside. That's what we love seeing."
Dobler said she's shooting for the national high school record in the 100 breaststroke at the Class 6A state championship this Saturday back at THAC, but otherwise, her only plan is to soak in the environment and live it up in her final official high school meet.
"I just want to have fun and enjoy it because it's my last one," Dobler said.
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