Looking out at the pool during the first days of practice for the Gig Harbor High School boys swim season, coach Mike Kelly noticed the turnout was a little thin.
“This year’s team is a little bit smaller than years past,” Kelly said. “We had some seniors and juniors that decided after water polo not to do swimming for their own personal reasons. We also lost probably perhaps our best swimmer from last year, Ryan Grady, (who) decided to focus on his rowing. So that’s always a huge blow to the team when you don’t get full participation.”
With the low turnout, Gig Harbor’s only returning state swimmer is Clay Curtis, who swam the 500-yard freestyle as well as contributing to relays a season ago. Kelly said his policy is to coach whoever shows up, and he doesn’t go after kids who decide not to come out for the team on any given season.
“I just let them go,” Kelly said. “Only two out of about six actually even told me anything. That just shows the immaturity of the kids that are out there today. If I had swam with someone for three years and that person was heavily involved with making the water polo program a success, I would’ve at least the decency to say, ‘Hey, I’m not going to go out for swimming this year.’ Most of them just kind of didn’t show up. That’s unfortunate. If they plan on continuing to play water polo, they’re going to be worse athletes than when they left this season.”
Kelly elaborated, saying that he’s focused on the swimmers who show up, not the ones who don’t.
“I don’t make anybody show up,” Kelly said. “If they want to show up and participate, I’m here to coach them. If they don’t, then the best of luck to them. We don’t think about them or pine for so and so. We’re the team we are. It’s all we’ve got and it’s all we need.”
Curtis, and the team, will then have to step up this season to keep the Gig Harbor team as strong as teams in years past.
“The team needs to work way harder than we did last year, in order to get to how good we’ve been in the years before,” Curtis said. “That’s all I know so far. This year, we only have one swimmer who made it to state last year. The rest are really good swimmers, we just need to work really hard.”
For Curtis, that means working hard from the beginning of the season until the end. Last year, the entire body of work was lacking, he admitted.
“I didn’t work hard towards the beginning of last season, to be quite honest,” he said. “I started taking it way more seriously towards the second half and I did way better. I’m pretty happy with how I did.”
Curtis broke the 5-minute mark in the 500 freestyle at state, clocking in at 4:59.98.
“That was a big accomplishment for me,” Curtis said. “That was one of my biggest goals, to beat that five minute time. It was awesome. It was great. I was so happy because of it.”
Kelly also pointed to Cannon Coats and Bryce Barnes as potential impact swimmers this season. Kelly said he’s looking forward to coaching the smaller group, which is allowing the coaching staff to give more individual attention to the swimmers.
“I think you’re going to see continual improvement,” Kelly said. “There’s less people so they get more attention from the coaching staff — two great assistant coaches. We’re really working on one coach for about every 10 kids. There’s a lot of details that are being pointed out this year. The kids that are here, they’re working really hard and giving me their best effort. That’s all I ask of any team. As long as you’re here to get better, you’re going to.”
Gig Harbor opened its season with a 126-57 win over Central Kitsap. It will face a tough North Thurston squad at 3:30 p.m. Thursday (Dec. 8) at home.