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SPARTANS ONCE AGAIN GREAT AT STATE: Two titles, new state record for Bainbridge swimmers
It was the first event in the state 3A girls swimming and diving championships.
And just before the Bainbridge Spartans relay team for the 200-yard medley stepped to the edge of the pool, Bainbridge Coach Greg Colby had a small bit of advice for his four swimmers.
“Have fun,” he told leadoff swimmer Shayla Archer.
“Swim fast,” he quickly added.
Did they ever.
Archer, along with fellow swimmers Ani Duni, Candice Rosen and Allison Murphy, blistered the competition and shattered the meet record in the 200-yard medley.
The record was a familiar one. It was the top all-time best mark in the event, and one that had been set by Bainbridge’s title team at last year’s championship.
History repeated itself. Two titles — and two state records — in two years running.
The Spartans weren’t finished there, however,
Archer defended her state title in the 100-yard breaststoke and retained the state crown.
Bainbridge took third place overall in team scores, with the help of fantastic finishes by the Spartans’ young swimmers in other events.
Close to the top were the BHS relay teams in the 200-yard freestyle and the 400-yard freestyle.
Bainbridge took second in the 200 free, with Duni, Amanda Comeau, Archer and Mikelle Ackerley medaling for the Spartans.
In the 400 free, the foursome of Mikelle and Natalie Ackerley, Murphy and Rosen roared to a third-place finish.
Some Spartans brought home multiple medals.
Mikelle Ackerley also placed fifth in the 200-yard freestyle, and sixth in the 100-yard freestyle.
Ani Duni won two of her consolation races. She was first in the B Final race in the 50-yard freestyle and finished ninth overall, and was also first in the B Final and ninth overall in the 100-yard breaststroke.
Other consolation races also found the Spartans finishing with points.
Rosen also claimed 10th place, and Natalie Ackerley 13th, in the 100-yard butterfly.
And in diving, freshman Zora Opalka made it to the medal stand with a seventh-place finish.
She was jubilant after her score of 295.35 was announced.
“Yes! Yes! Yes!” Opalka exalted as she was quickly swept up in a hug by her teammates.
Although Bainbridge finished a spot below last year’s impressive showing at state, where BHS finished second, there were no complaints on the Spartan sideline. This year’s state meet capped an amazing year where the Spartans went undefeated in their dual-meet schedule and claimed the number-two spot at districts.
“I think it was awesome,” Coach Colby said. “The state meet mirrored our season a little bit. We had a rough start — not in the win/loss area — but just as a team.”
There was a bit of a scare during the first-day preliminaries, and an almost disqualification in the medley relay.
“And we kind of had a little rough start on Friday, when we thought maybe that medley relay was DQd,” Colby said.
With the official not sure which lane, exactly, where the violation was made (an underwater kick past the 15-meter mark), the Spartans finished in 1:49.87.
“We shook that off. And the next day, they came back and broke their own state meet record. They broke the school record again,” Colby noted. “It was awesome.”
Last year’s best-ever mark from the Spartans was 1:47.75.
This year, the team of Archer, Duni, Rose and Murphy clocked in at 1:47.44.
“It was the most amazing experience,” Murphy said. “It’s like all your hard work pays off. It’s so gratifying.”
Murphy, like Duni and Rosen on the relay team, is a sophomore. It was her second trip to state, and this year topped last year as an experience, she said.
As the top team coming in, the Spartans got to pick the song that blared through the King County Aquatics Center during their march to the poolside, followed by the seven other teams in the finals.
The song, picked by Shayla Archer, was the Beatles’ version of “Twist and Shout.”
“Oh my goodness, that is so intimidating. Because everyone is there cheering, the song is blasting, and I’m like, if I don’t do good I’ll be upset,” Murphy recalled.
The crowd at the state meet soon got a chance to see the new Fab Four, however, as Archer, swimming the first leg, gave the Spartans an early lead.
She finished her leg in 25.84.
It was a wonderful accomplishment for a senior swimmer who for two years had hoped to break the 26-second mark in the event.
“It was exciting to be that far ahead,” Archer said.
Archer said she was happy to keep her crown in the 100-yard backstroke, where she took first in 56.38, just ahead of Talisa Wibmer of Hazen (57.11) and Caitlin Cox of Mercer Island (57.36).
Even so, Archer said she wasn’t happy with her individual showing at state, which she admitted was a bit “nit-picky.”
“I was a little disappointed about my overall performance. My times weren’t anywhere near what I hoped or expected they would be,” she said. “They were about the same or slower than last year.”
Still, she recalled some other advice she got from her coach, after her finish in the 200-yard individual medley where she had hoped to break the school record in the event but came up short.
Archer recalled how she was in the cool-down pool and Colby came up, and repeated an acronym well-known to the team.
“He kind of looked at me: “You know, WIN. What’s Important Now?’
“‘Cool down. Get out there,’” the coach told her.
“He said, ‘You know what? You did really well. And you’re a four-time state champion. You’re going to go out there on that 200 free relay and help your team do great and then you’re going to be a five-time state champion,’” Archer recalled.
“He was just kind of very business like: ‘This is what’s going to happen. You know what’s going to happen. So do it.’”
Colby said it’s important to keep things positive during the state meet.
“It’s energy sapping, it’s emotionally tiring — but it’s so fun,” he said.
“I feel that as head coach, you’ve got to lead by example. I consciously make the effort to have fun,” he said.
“This year’s team has a lot of passion for the sport, so that was easy to do,” Colby added.
The Spartans emerged from a tough first day of competition, Colby said, and he was proud of his team’s effort.
“We were 60 to 70 percent [on the first day]. It would have been nice to get a couple more folks in [to consolation races],” he said. “It would have been nice to get a couple more of our folks who were in [consultations] up into finals. But, I tell you, the team in general — and this particular group of girls - understood what they needed to do on Saturday. And they just brought it.”
Colby passed around the praise, from the Ackerleys to Duni’s emergence in the consolation races to finish first in her two events. Duni went from 15th in the 100-yard breaststroke on Friday (1:10.14) to a ninth place on Saturday (1:07.41)
“What a great swim, and what a great win for the team,” Colby said.
“Some might say, ‘Oh well, yeah, you dropped a place from last year.’ I thought it was a fantastic meet and a great season.”
“No way you can be upset with an undefeated dual-meet season where you beat the 4A champ, the 3A champ, and Gig Harbor, who I think got third in 4A. To get second at district and third at state, and have some lifetime bests along the way ... I don’t think a single kid can be disappointed with that,” he said.
Natalie Ackerley said the thing she’d remember most was the advice from Coach Colby.
“He told us that his girls, Emily and Helen, before they would swim they would get really nervous,” she recalled.
“They learned that staying calm and having fun can actually make you do better — because you’re not so stressed and you’re more thinking about this is what I have to do,” Ackerley said. “That helped a lot, just staying calm and having fun.”
“I feel like I finally figured out how to race my events,” she added.
“The entire experience is really fun,” added her sister, Mikelle Ackerley. “State is kind of like a big party. You just have to swim your fastest.”
For Duni, breaking the record in the 200-medley relay was the topper.
“It was just really awesome to break the record we set last year. And to get to be on a relay with Shayla; it’s her last year as senior,” Duni said.
“It was just amazing. And it was really fun to look up in the stands and see all the fans just cheering for us and to see how happy Greg was,” she said.
There wasn’t much of a celebration for the team afterward; just going up top during the 11:15 p.m. boat home to Bainbridge for sandwiches.
And for Archer, the end of her high school career was truly bittersweet.
“It was definitely a sad thing. I got into my car after the bus ride home and I just started crying,” she said.
“It’s such an emotional toll, the meet itself. And to realize it’s the last one, it’s overwhelming.”