Century swimmers finish first in six events en route to a Class 6A state championship

GRESHAM — Last week, the Century girls swim team turned in a performance that was both unprecedented and historic, both memorable and HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: AMANDA MILES - Century's Ellie Thornbrue starts to edge in front of eventual runner-up Emily Cheng of Sunset during the 200-yard freestyle at Saturday's Class 6A state swim meet. Thornbrue won her third straight state title in the event.

But perhaps above all, it was wonderful.

The Jaguars swam their way into the history books last Friday and Saturday at Mt. Hood Community College, using a top-heavy performance to capture the Class 6A girls state championship. Century swimmers garnered wins in an impressive six of the meet’s 11 events, twice set the OSAA record in one event and matched it in another en route to hoisting the first-place trophy.

Competing with only five girls — all of whom contributed to the victory both on relays and as individuals — the Jaguars racked up 168 points to top West Linn (143), Lakeridge (120) and Sunset (106).

The Jaguars ended a nine-year Metro League stranglehold on the big-school crown. Jesuit picked up five straight titles from 2009 through 2013, and Westview won the four prior to that.

The significance of her team’s victory was not lost on Century coach Sarah Holman.

“I’m very excited. I’m so happy,” said Holman, who teaches mathematics at the school. “This is only the second state title in Century High School’s history. Go girl Jags, because the other title was softball. Century is a relatively new school, and so to get to be the first to do something is pretty exciting.”

Holman’s crew was both steady and superlative over the two-day competition. Based on seed times entering the meet, the Jaguars set up to score a lot of points. They looked even better on paper after Friday’s preliminaries and then took care of business on Saturday, holding form almost to the point — a rarity in a sport like swimming.

“I don’t know how often the team that’s supposed to win on paper actually does win,” Holman noted. “But these guys are competitors. They love to compete.”

Ellie Thornbrue and Sara Metzsch were particularly clutch throughout the meet. Both girls won two individual titles and swam legs on Century’s victorious 200- and 400-yard freestyle relay teams.

Thornbrue first got Century on the board Saturday with her third consecutive title in the 200 free. Appearing in control throughout, she cruised to a time of 1 minute, 50.57 seconds, to top the 1:51.43 put up by Sunset junior Emily Cheng.

Though Thornbrue seemed the clear winner, she did experience a few anxious moments and some confusion at the conclusion of the event. The large timing board that displays swimmers’ marks after each race showed her with a time slower than Cheng’s.

“I thought I won, but I was like, ‘I just need to swallow my pride,’” Thornbrue explained. “I was like, ‘Ellie, you got beat. You just need to say good job.’ So I looked over and I said, ‘Good job,’ and then I walked over and I found out that (my) time was wrong. I was really worried at first.”

There was no momentary ambiguity about the 500 free, in which Thornbrue picked up her first career title after a runner-up finish last season. Thornbrue entered the meet as the second seed to Southridge’s Caitlyn Wilson but led the championship final nearly wire-to-wire, her 4:56.11 besting Wilson’s 4:59.57.

Metzsch also provided individual highlights with victories in the 100 butterfly and 100 backstroke. A sophomore club swimmer who turned out for the team for the first time this winter, Metzsch held a slight lead at the 50-yard mark in the fly and maintained it to the final wall, finishing in 55.27, with Clackamas’ Lainey Visscher second in 55.69.

In the backstroke, Metzsch came home on the back half well faster than anyone else in the field — by more than a second — and hit the touchpad in 54.81, the exact time Westview’s Michelle Cefal posted a year ago as the OSAA and Class 6A state meet record. Hannah Galbraith also contributed with a 12th-place result in that event (1:00.94).

Sisters Logan and Riley Neal also earned key points in individual events. Riley, a freshman, finished fifth in the 200 individual medley (2:09.70) and the 500 free (5:12.31). Meanwhile, Logan, a junior, took fifth in the 50 free (24.11) and sixth in the 100 free (52.83).

And then there were those relays.

“I think our relays were really exciting to win,” said Metzsch, who led off both of them. “By getting first in those, that’s just really cool to win.”

In the 200 free relay, Century narrowly led after two legs thanks to Metzsch and Hannah Galbraith. That was plenty for Logan Neal and Thornbrue to work with, and the two juniors turned the advantage from a few hundredths to three-quarters of a second by the finish. The quartet’s time of 1:36.88 was just 0.47 off Lakeridge’s OSAA record from 2010.

And in some ways, the Jaguars saved their best for last. Not only did they lock up the team title with the 400 free relay victory, but they also set the OSAA and Class 6A state meet record for the second straight day.

On Friday, the team of Metzsch, Riley Neal, Logan Neal and Thornbrue finished in 3:31.42 to eclipse Crescent Valley’s 2006 standard of 3:31.47.

They were even better Saturday, posting a blistering 3:29.95 to become the first girls 400 free relay team to dip under 3:30 at the state meet.

“It was really fun the first time and way more fun the second time,” Logan Neal said. “We knew we could go faster, because we were on our game that day, but we were so hyped for the relay today.”

In the final, Century pulled away early and then stayed away — winning by more than four seconds.

The performance was not just a win.

Fittingly, it was a coronation.

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