Kentlake’s girls swim team has turned an individual sport into the opposite this season.
Every lap, in every race, in every meet – they’re all for Seth Dawson.
Dawson, 31, had completed one season as the Falcons’ coach when he was killed in a plane crash on Feb. 15 near North Bend. Also on board the Cessna 172 was Decatur swim coach Rob Hill, the 30-year-old pilot, and a 29-year-old Federal Way woman.
“We’re more of a team this season,” junior Kyndal Phillips said. “We’re more united because of Seth’s death.
“Now, we’re doing it for him. Last year, we were doing it for ourselves.”
That doesn’t mean that it isn’t difficult at times, though.
After the South Puget Sound League meet last month, in which Kentlake placed second behind Mount Rainier, the girls gathered together and cried. They missed their coach — and they knew he would have been proud.
“It’s hard when you think about it,” Phillips said. “But it makes you stronger.”
Under Dawson’s tutelage, Kentlake’s girls placed third in the Class 4A state meet, the best finish in school history. He also coached the boys’ team as the fourth coach in as many years.
Stepping into the role of girls coach this season was Caroline Whitlock, who teaches French at Kentlake. She was the Falcons’ co-head coach in 2007, and preciously coached at Kentwood.
“It’s fun,” Whitlock said. “I missed the pool and the coaching part, and I enjoy working with the girls.”
Phillips said that Whitlock is supportive of the team’s situation. The swimmers even wear black T-shirts that read, “This one’s for you. RIP Coach Seth Dawson.”
“She understands,” Phillips said.
Senior Emily Tanasse said Whitlock is her fourth coach in four seasons at Kentlake.
“It’s been hard to be consistent, and this year was even harder because last year, we finally found a coach we loved, and he planned to be here for the long run,” Tanasse said.
“But Coach Whitlock has done a great job coming in, and we’ve been able to help each other get through it and have a good year.”
Whitlock said that it hasn’t been easy for the girls, but that they are learning to trust her and figuring out how to work through their grief and compete to their best abilities. And while taking over for a beloved coach was initially awkward, she said that she doesn’t mind this season being dedicated to Dawson.
“Seth was a great guy,” she said. “They’re paying their respects in the way they know how.”
The Falcons will take eight swimmers to this weekend’s state meet at the King County Aquatic Center in Federal Way.
“Some of the girls have struggled with the change, but as a whole, they’ve done a good job as a team,” Whitlock said. “They’ve learned how to work through things together and support each other.”
Tanasse said Dawson would be especially proud of the 200-yard medley and 200-freestyle relays, both of which advanced to state by crushing the competition at the district meet.
“We know he’d be so proud, and we’re so excited,” she said.