The Spartans won two state titles at the 3A Girls State Swimming & Diving Championships in Federal Way after Margaret Hayes snatched the state crown in the 200-yard individual medley and the fantastic foursome of Hayes, Xaveria Rodriguez, Sydney Sorensen and Emma Solseng took the title in the 200-yard freestyle relay.
The big wins — along with a clutch, last-race seventh place for the Spartan relay team of Amelia Kimball, Naomi Howard, Eden Michael and Siena Levan — pushed Bainbridge into third place overall, edging arch rival Mercer Island by a half point, 203-202.5.
“I was just so proud,” Spartan Coach Sarah Bullock said of the four underclassmen who came through when Bainbridge needed them most.
“For them to hold through and hold their position — it all came down to them and they knew it. I was just so proud of them,” Bullock said.
The Bainbridge coach said when she scored out the meet, she figured Bainbridge would trail Mercer Island by 13 points.
Even so, the Spartans were ready for the challenge.
“I told the kids, 13 points is hard, but it’s doable,” Bullock said. “Everybody needs to maintain their spot or go up.”
“The fact that they were able to do it was just phenomenal,” she added.
The Spartans started Saturday’s finals with a third-place medal in the 200-yard medley relay, behind first-place Bellevue and second-place Lake Washington.
The Spartan foursome of Margaret Hayes, Solseng, Moorea Eldon-Everts and Rodriguez, finished in 1:46.40.
The Wolverines clocked in at 1:44.20 for the title, followed by the Roos at 1:45.40.
All three of the top trio of finishers turned in faster performances than their preliminary races Friday. Bainbridge improved from 1:47.95 to 1:46.40.
For Eldon-Everts, a senior who made her first appearance at State as a freshman, the medal marked a major achievement: a walk at long last out to the winners’ platform.
“I was in the 200 medley relay and through my whole high school career I haven’t made podium,” Eldon-Everts said. “I’ve been in B Finals at state. We finally got third in that event; that was really exciting for me to be there.
“It felt amazing. It felt like a great finish to my senior year,” she said.
Hayes, a sophomore, won the state title in the 200-yard individual medley, winning with more than a second to spare over Rylee Siripipat of Bellevue, 2:03.61 to 2:04.73.
Every Spartan swimmer and relay team improved their times from Friday’s preliminaries to Saturday’s finals. Likewise, the sophomore champ trimmed her time from the prelims, from 2:04.18 to 2:03.61.
Solseng also advanced to the winners’ platform in the 50-yard freestyle. The freshman swimmer claimed third place in a close one: she touched the wall at 23.89, just behind Lake Washington’s Amelia Hammer (23.39) and Bellevue phenom Janelle Rudolph (22.37).
“I’ve been watching state since I was in fifth grade, watching the girls compete,” Solseng said. “So I kind of like knew what it was about and what happens, but being on the pool deck and actually swimming — it’s such a different experience. And being in the stands is fun and all, but actually competing and seeing everyone there and having your teammates around you, is so fun and special.”
Rodriguez was first in the B Final for the 50 free, with a time of 24.51.
In 1-meter diving, sophomore Bryn Tiernan rose in Saturday’s finals to medal in eighth place.
“I was really hoping for podium, that was kind of my goal of the season,” Tiernan said.
“I was really excited, but I was also really nervous. ‘What if I don’t, what if I cant make it?’” Tiernan said. “But I had hope.”
She finished with 335.25 total points, just enough to surpass Timberlake’s Ashley Babkirk, who totaled 312.90.
The finish was suspenseful, certainly, as Tiernan avoided looking up at the giant scoreboard at the far end of the pool with the divers’ scores and standings.
“Everyone knew I didn’t like looking at the scoreboard,” Tiernan laughed.
“It was like, I can’t look at it, because then I will psych myself out. So I refused to look at it until the competition was over.”
Hayes also brought home second place in the 100-yard butterfly, with Roosevelt’s Kate Leary the title winning by a fingernail finish of .09 seconds — 55.60 to 55.56.
Hayes’ final was faster than her Friday prelim time of 55.56 — but so was Leary’s, improving from 55.60 to 55.02.
“That was the most amazing race,” the Spartan coach said, with Leary just barely getting a hand on the wall before Hayes.
“They were neck-and-neck the whole time. She just got touched out,” Bullock said.
“I wasn’t super happy with getting second in the 100 fly,” Hayes said.
“It was really close. I feel like the closer races, the more it like hurts to lose,” she added. “But I have to look at it with different eyes. I can’t let it be something that brings me down, because it’s just one race.”
She wasn’t surprised by the slim distance between the two top swimmers at the race’s end.
“I knew that it was going to be super close,” she said. “I felt really good with my morning swim, so I thought that would translate through to my finals swim. And I felt really strong doing it, but I just didn’t have that extra push at the end.”
Hayes got a glance at Leary midway through the race, who was not even a body length ahead of her.
Hayes closed the gap, but not enough.
“I saw where she was, and in the last 25, I’m like right there. I didn’t realize how close I was, but on my final turn it was like she was really far ahead of me, but I just tried to push through the pain,” Hayes said.
Rodriguez won second place in the 100-yard freestyle, with a time of 52.25.
Saturday’s mark was an improvement over Friday’s preliminary, where she finished in 55.60.
Rodriguez recalled the coach’s simple advice for the team.
“She said get in, swim fast, have fun. Don’t be afraid to shine,” Rodriguez recalled.
Amelia Hammer of Lake Washington won the 100 free title for the Roos, in 50.93. Ella Haskins of Blanchet placed third in 52.42.
Then came another crown for the Spartan team: a first in the 200-yard freestyle relay.
Rodriguez, Sorensen, Solseng and Hayes won the title in 1:37.08, with Bellevue claiming second (1:38.02) and Lakeside following (1:38.60).
“I kept telling myself that prelims, it’s my last high school meet ever. You can’t screw it up. You just have to go for it,” Rodriguez recalled.
“That got me into a good place for the finals And then for finals, I was like, this is my last finals.”
Rodriguez, the sole senior on the winning foursome, gave the relay team’s two freshman swimmers a bit of advice before their finals race.
“Some of them would say, that they didn’t want to disappoint the team or anything. I told them they can’t really disappoint us. Because we’re a team. We all make up one, and everyone matters in the group. So if you don’t do your personal best, we’re here to support you,” she said. “We’re here to encourage you to work on things you need to do to get better. But if you do get a personal best, we’re here to cheer for you.”
Rodriguez said there was one thing that went through her mind as she stood on the top spot on the winners’s platform with Hayes, Solseng and Sorensen.
A question, really.
“Can I sit down? Because I am so tired,” Rodriguez laughed.
“But after that, it kind of soaks in and you can’t believe, ‘I did this,’” she said.
But not alone, Rodriguez quickly added.
“I wouldn’t have gotten to where I am now without this team, without every single person who has been there to support me,” she said.
“I knew it was going to be really close because Bellevue, they are a really strong team and have been for many years,” Solseng added.
“But I knew Xaveria and I both had very good individual 50s, and so we were just kind of relying on that.
“And Sydney, she had such a great race. I was so happy for her. That really helped us,” Solseng added. “And then just Margaret anchoring at the end. She dove in and I think we already knew we had won.”
The trip to Federal Way and swimming in the finals was a bit unexpected, the freshman said.
“I didn’t expect to make it to state,” Sorensen said. “My goal was really personal events and to get my own personal times. And I was just in it to have fun.”
A chance at a state title, however, became a reality after this year’s Spartan Relays.
“And when my relay team at the Spartan Relays got the record and got a state [qualifying] time, it was like — I want this,” Sorensen said.
“Every practice I would always ask, ‘What can I do to make my 50 freestyle better?’ Even if it was just for the relay; relays are worth double points.
“I didn’t want to let my teammates down and I didn’t want to let myself down,” she added. “This was a huge opportunity to make history. And I just kept working hard. I kept asking a bunch of questions. How can I fix my turns? My dives? Closer to the state meet, I really asked my teammates — because they are such great swimmers and girls — what can I do in order to help the team?
“It was: Swim your fastest. And have fun,” Sorensen recalled.
Sorensen recounted the advice of Hayes before the 200 free relay: “Let’s just have fun; let’s swim it. You girls are great. You’ve been working for this.”
“That really hit home,” Sorensen said. “We have been working for this and we all want it. That was just the little extra motivation I needed before I started swimming.”
In the 100-yard breaststroke, Solseng won second (1:03.16), just behind Jetlynn Hau of Stanwood (1:02.04), in the freshman versus senior matchup, respectively.
Solseng had remarkable success as a solo swimmer, Bullock said, setting a record in the 100-yard breaststroke.
“Which is a record she broke three straight times,” the coach added. “At Metros, and she broke it again at District and again at State.”
Bainbridge’s seventh-place result in the 400-yard freestyle transcended the race itself.
Sure, the Spartans’ fierce foursome of Amelia Kimball, Naomi Howard, Eden Michael and Siena Levan medaled and made it to the winners’ platform.
But with Bainbridge clinging to a slim 6.5 advantage over Mercer Island for the third place trophy, 179 points to 172.5, an eighth-place finish for Sparty — or for that matter, a better-than-fourth-place win for MI — would have resulted in the Spartan smackdown Mercer was hoping for.
Though Mercer Island trimmed some time from its preliminary time, Bainbridge did as well; dropping from 342.72 to 3:41.47 to secure seventh.
MI finished fourth in the meet’s final race, and as such, fourth overall.
On one side of the pool, the Spartan coaches and swimmers screamed, hugged, jumped for joy. On the other side, the Islanders stood, slumped and shocked.
“The last relay was the most stressful of the meet,” Hayes said. “But the girls did really well. They all had their best times on their relays.
“At first, I wasn’t sure that we beat Mercer. And then looking up and seeing that we had won by half a point was cool,” Hayes said.
“Every single race mattered in that meet,” Rodriguez added.
“Half a point? It was crazy,” she said.
Bainbridge and Mercer Island jostled for third and fourth place throughout the meet, with the Spartans staking claim early for a top-three finish only to be upended by the Islanders, who jumped in front of Bainbridge after two of its divers — freshman Brooke Andrews and senior Sophia McGuffin — won second and third place, respectively, in 1-meter diving.
The wins put Mercer just four points behind second-place Washington (99-95) while Bainbridge sank to fourth (88).
Wouldn’t last, though.
Bainbridge picked up crucial points from Hayes’ performance in the 100-yard butterfly to retake third, just three points in front of Bellevue (105-103).
The second place by Rodriguez in the 100 free moved the Spartans further in front, 122-107.
Bainbridge held on to third place through the final races, and was up just 6.5 points going into the final race, the 400 free relay.
Then came seventh place. Joy for the Spartans, agony for the Islanders.
“They rose to the occasion,” Bullock said.
“I will not lie; I feel bad for Mercer Island, but it sure was sweet to move ahead of them,” she said.