Girls ride three event wins to close second for team in state swimming

Benny Westcott and Scott Swanson

Sweet Home’s girls swimming team came close – oh, so close – to repeating as state champions, losing by three points to private-school powerhouse Catlin Gabel at the OSAA 4A/3A/2A/1A state championships Saturday, Feb. 11, in Tualatin.

Catlin Gabel finished with 54 points to Sweet Home’s 51. St. Mary’s of Medford was third with 36, followed by Cove (26) Newport (23), Cascade Christian (21) and Molalla (20). Stayton was 15th with three points and Marist’s girls tied with Sisters for 17th with one point each.

“It was good,” Sweet Home Coach A. Jay Bronson said, acknowledging that the Huskies were disappointed with the close loss. “We started the season saying we’d be happy to get any trophy, but to get up there and realize we had a shot…”

Sweet Home was almost where coaches wanted their swimmers to be, leading by one point going into the final event, the 400 Freestyle Relay, after freshman Breeza Rodriguez and sophomore Kristen Sautel delivered some big points with individual state titles in the 100 Backstroke and the 100 Breaststroke, respectively.

But the Eagles, whose team is composed of club swimmers and who competed together only twice during the regular season, according to their schedule posted on the OSAA website, finished four seconds ahead of Sweet Home’s team of sophomores Daisy Lalonde and Peyton Markell, Rodriguez and Sautel, in 3:52.72. The Huskies cut almost two seconds off their prelims time, but trailed in 3:56.92.

After the same four swimmers won the opening event, the 200 Medley Relay, in 1:57.12, they found themselves in a very tight race in which the lead bounced around throughout the meet. Sweet Home was slightly out of position following the 200 Freestyle Relay, Bronson said.

“We’d planned to back-end it,” he said, adding that coaches were hoping for a win in the 200 Freestyle Relay, but the Huskies were unable to outpace Cascade Christian, though they finished in a season-best 1:46.36, a hair faster than the time they posted in Friday’s prelims.

“Our goal going into the second day was to win the first two relays,” Bronson said. “We missed that second relay by three-tenths of a second.”

They had some help along the way, he said, noting that Catlin Gabel swimmers finished short of their seedings in a couple of events, and he said a win in the 400 relay would have required PR swims from all four.

“If we swam our absolute best times, we still would have been about half a second short,” Bronson said. “The kids had a shot. Anything can happen. But going into that relay we were fairly certain with the result of how that was going to end up.”

Sautel said she was “in shock” after winning the 100 Breastroke. “I can’t even explain how happy I am right now,” she said afterward. “That was so amazing.”

Rodriquez said she was pretty excited after winning the 100 Backstroke. “In prelims I had a big lead on everyone, so I kind of was expecting to get first. But I was really just trying to work my underwaters and get that 1:03. I was just trying to get my legs going the whole entire time. And I got the time that I was hoping for.”

Sautel had a positive outlook on her team’s second place finish. “Overall, I’m really proud of everyone,” she said. “We were not expecting to get second in state. That’s really cool for us. We’re a really young team, we don’t have any seniors. So next year we’re just adding people on. It’s going to be really good next year.”

In the boys competition, Sweet Home was 12th, courtesy of two medal performances by sophomore R.J. Abbott, who scored five points. Catlin Gabel won the boys championship, with 70, followed by trophy winners Newport (48), La Grande (43) and Marist (26). Philomath was 13th with four points and Junction City was 19th with one.

Abbott, who was sixth in the 200 Individual Medley prelims on Friday, moved up to fifth in the finals, finishing in 2:04.88. He said he was pretty happy with the race. “I dropped time from yesterday, so I think that’s overall a win in my book,” he said on Saturday. He was also fifth in the 100 Breaststroke, finishing in 1:05.00, an effort he was not as pleased with. “I’m not as happy with that,” he said. “I added (time) from yesterday. It wasn’t a good swim at all.”

Bronson said that Abbott, a sophomore, had stiffer competition this year, after finishing fourth last year.

“This year some faster people showed up.”

However, he noted, last year Abbott was the boys only scorer, but this year fellow sophomore Arman Marble finished sixth in the 500 Freestyle, in 5:36.25, to add to their total. Marble noted he was feeling under the weather for the race. “It was a lot harder than yesterday,” he said afterwards. “Being sick did not help.” Still, he said “I think it went a lot better than I thought it would. I just went for it. I didn’t really try to hold back.” Marble also finished 12th in the 200 Freestyle, in 2:03.38.

Also, the boys team of Abbott, Marble, Blake Arthur and Shayne Schuster were seventh in both freestyle relays, bettering the boys’ performances at last year’s championships.

The boys cut three seconds off the time they posted in the district 200 Freestyle Relay, finishing in 1:39.83.

Same thing happened in the 400 Free Relay, where they finished with a time of 3:42.75, three seconds faster than their district finish.

“We did better as a team,” Bronson said. “They were fired up. They had best times all the way around.”

Also competing as an individual for the boys was Arthur, who just missed a medal in the 50 Freestyle, placing seventh on Friday in 23.62, and then finishing eighth in the 100 Free, in 52.66.

For the girls, Rodriguez won the 100 Backstroke in 1:03.94, followed by Peyton Markell in fourth (1:06.44), which boosted the Huskies into second place behind Catlin Gabel (40-34)

Sautel followed that up with an individual championship in the 100 Freestyle, cutting a second and a half off her second-place prelims time to finish in 1:08.22, and put Sweet Home in the lead.

Also competing for the girls as individuals were sophomore Payton Brookfield, who was 11th in the 100 Butterfly, in 1:10.28, and Lalonde, who was 12th in the 100 backstroke 1:10.27.

“We’re young,” Bronson said of the Huskies, who lost three individual state champions on the girls side to graduation going into this year and who had no seniors on either the boys or girls rosters.

“Hopefully this lights a fire. It sucks that we didn’t win, but we did the best we could. We can’t be upset. We just need to make sure that next year we score 60 points.”

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