For Bainbridge High Coach Kaycee Taylor, the swimming pool isn’t half empty, it’s really just half full.
With a whole host of standouts from the Spartans boys swimming and diving team lost to graduation, Bainbridge is in rebuilding mode as it prepares for the upcoming season.
But with the departures also comes new opportunities for the team’s younger swimmers to maintain the Spartans’ reputation as one of the top teams in 3A competition.
Practices began the day after Veterans Day, and turnout was good, Taylor said. The team now has 33 on board, and that’s just a bit better than average.
“We graduated a bunch of guys last year, so it was nice to have some fresh faces come back in to fill those spots,” Taylor said. “If we’re right around 30, that’s a big strong team for us.”
It’s a different team, to be sure.
“We had some great seniors who left; Colin Chupik, one of our sprinters; Andrew McCarthy. Almost an entire relay team, except for Spencer Alpaugh, who is still here, thank goodness, left.”
The Spartans’ 200-yard medley relay team — which finished fourth at state last year — was emptied by departing graduates. The team included seniors McCarthy and Chupik, as well as Jared Bell.
The Spartans’ 200-yard freestyle relay team lost two members. The team, which took fifth place last year at state, included seniors Grant Dunaway and Alex Nowjack.
Also hard hit was the Spartans’ 400-yard freestyle relay team. That foursome, the No. 3 team at state last year, included Nowjack, Chupik and McCarthy.
Chupik also earned fifth in the men 50-yard freestyle at state, while Nowjack took eighth place in the 200-yard freestyle. Bell was also a strong competitor in the 100-yard breaststroke; he finished at No. 15 in state last year.
“Those were big losses,” the coach said.
“Losses for points, but also losses for just leadership,” Taylor explained. “That’s going to mean that the younger guys are going to have to step up a little bit sooner than maybe they had planned on.”
With less than two weeks’ worth of practices gone by, Taylor, now in his 10th year at Bainbridge, said he was heartened by what he had seen.
“It’s only been a couple of days, but what I’ve been really impressed with ... is that we’ve got even some of these guys who are freshmen, they understand a workout. I say ‘Go! Here’s the steps.’ And they just do it.”
Taylor gives much credit to the Bainbridge Island Swim Club for preparing his swimmers, some of whom have been competing for years before they hit the high school level.
“They know the lingo, they know the culture, and they get right into it. That’s been impressive.
“That’s a learning curve we don’t really have,” Taylor said.
Despite the team’s youthful makeup, with just a few seniors and nearly a third who are freshman or new to swimming competitively at the high school level, Taylor said the team has its share of surprises.
“I think we’ve got some strong contenders out there,” he said.
Seniors Ricky Ackerley and Kevin Yalung, along with junior Marcus Tonsmann, will lead the team as captains and are phenomenal swimmers.
Taylor said Yalung has been anxious to move out of his comfort zone in his final year.
“He was one of these guys who has always kind of been a sprinter, then decided last year, ‘Hey, I want to try to qualify in some longer events,’” said Taylor, who noted that Yalung has a state-qualifying time in the 200-yard freestyle.
Diver Colem Mitchell is also back on the Spartan roster this year. As a freshman, he placed 13th in diving at the state meet.
“Physically, he’s gotten stronger. I think once he gets back in the high school mindset, I think he is going to be a good challenger,” Taylor said of the sophomore.
Another to watch this year: sophomore CJ Waite.
“He is a great breaststroker, and a state qualifier last year as a freshman,” Taylor said.
The coach also expects swimmers such as Bill Lee and Adam Comeau to be essential during district-level competition.
“I can count on these guys to really rack up points for us,” he said.
Other potential early standouts include sophomore Logan McDaniel, a club swimmer making his debut this year on the Spartan squad, and freshman Sam Alpaugh, another club swimmer.
“I’ve seen him do great things at club meets,” Taylor said of Alpaugh.
Last year, the Spartans finished third at state. Taylor expects some familiar foes to be contenders this year.
“I think it’s going to be Lakeside, [Seattle] Prep, us and O’Dea battling out for those top three-four spots, as it is every year.”
“Mercer [Island] at state and at district are always great competition,” he added.
The Spartans will get an early preview of Mercer Island in January, when the Islanders come to Bainbridge for a meet.
And Bainbridge will find out just how good they are on Dec. 21, when Lakeside visits for a league dual meet.
“That is going to be a great matchup. Lakeside, they were second place at state last year and they graduated a key swimmer whose family, ironically enough, has moved to the island,” Taylor said. “That will be a big matchup for us.”
Still, Taylor said the Spartans may be more impressive than one might expect.
“It’s a young team, but I think there’s a really positive energy with them,” he said.
The reason? The Spartans aren’t looking back. Instead, Taylor said the attitude is: “Hey, that’s last year’s team. This is this year’s team - what can we do?”
“I love that attitude. You can’t just say, ‘Well, you were good last year,’” he said.
“Just based on the caliber I’ve seen so far, I easily can see us as a top five at state. Just because they’ve got that experience, even the younger guys have got club experience.
“That’s my hope,” Taylor said.