North Thurston High School girls swim coach Jak Ayres was just a bit nervous awaiting the announcement of the final 3A team score at Friday evening’s Narrows League championships at Mount Tahoma Pool.
Wilson had just won the final event, the 400-yard freestyle relay, with the North Thurston, which had led going into the race, fourth.
“It’ll be four or five points either way,” Ayres said as the P.A. announcer counted down toward the top two slots. When Wilson was announced as the runner-up, Ayres breathed a sigh of relief and North Thurston could celebrate a remarkable accomplishment.
Although North Thurston had breezed through the dual meet season undefeated, it began the racing portion of the championship meet down 52-0 because Wilson had the only four competitors in the diving event.
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Thanks to stellar performances across the board, notably by Maya Lawson-Rivera and Arielle Howell, North Thurston edged Wilson, 304-299, with Capital third at 255.
“We had some great swims today,” Ayers said.
The format of the meet worked to North Thurston’s favor. The heats were seeded as combined 3A/4A races, with the fastest qualifiers in each classification meeting and the results of all heats sorted out as timed finals.
Lawson-Rivera, who slashed more than two seconds from her season’s best time in winning the 100-yard breastroke in 1:10.17, and nearly five seconds from her best in the 200-yard individual medley while finishing second in 2:14.51, was a beneficiary.
“Maya always swims better against tough competition,” Ayres said.
Lawson-Rivera’s breaststroke time was the third-fastest statewide in 3A this season and qualified her for entry into the state meet. Her IM time was the fourth best of the year and also was a state qualifying time.
Howell similarly claimed a first and a second, winning the 50-yard freestyle in 25.85 and finished second in the 100 free in 56.37. Both Lawson-Rivera and Howell participated on two relays each, helping North Thurston pile up more points.
Freshman Brooke Kuebler, whose individual highlight was a second in the 50 free (26.32); sophomore Hanna Grantham, with a second in the 500freestyle (5:41.30) and a third in the 200 free (2:08.72), and freshman Danielle Johnson, whose best was a fourth in the 100 butterfly (1:06.66), each scored at least 20 points for North Thurston.
“We’re trending upward,” Ayres said. “We’ve been working hard heading into this meet, heading into the rest of the season.
By no means was North Thurston the only Thurston County team to shine.
Timberline boasted the meet’s stellar individual performer as sophomore Hannah Barker was a double winner, shattering the one-minute barrier in the 100 backstroke for the first time in her career to win the 4A race in 59.54 seconds to improve on her previous state qualifying time by more than a second. She also turned in a season’s best and third-best in 4A, at 1:58.63, to win and qualify for state in the 200 free.
“It was nice,” Barker said. “I haven’t been turning in the fastest times this season until today.”
In both the free and the back, Barker stayed underwater longer than her opponents and surfaced with a lead she would never relinquish both times.
“I’ve been working on doing my dolphin kicks better. I’m testing myself, pushing myself to go faster.”
The Blazers went faster right to the end, threatening a school record in the concluding relay as Barker and teammates Elaine Rocomora, Payten Goodwin and Kale Bright slashed more than four seconds from their seed time to finish in 3:56.77.
“My whole team shocked me,” said Blazers coach Marie Ratcliff, whose team finished fourth in 4A with 168 points. “We had tons of best times, everybody was on.”
Capital boasted three 20-point scorers, led by freshman Alec Nooney, who qualified for state in the 100 back at 1:01.21, shaving more than two seconds from her career best, and took third in the 200 IM (2:17.44). Junior Shelvy Swett claimed two individual seconds: in the 200 free (2:07.80) and the 100 fly (1:02.50). Sophomore Olivia Young was second in the 100 breast (1:16.30) and third in the 50 free (26.40).
The Cougars’ 200 free relay team (Young, Jada Pearson, Cynthia Czkall and Nooney) sprinted to the state’s third-fastest 3A time at 1:44.17, just ahead of North Thurston’s 1:44.32, turned in by Kuebler, Lauren Anderson, Lawson-Rivera and Howell.
Olympia sophomore Lacey Wright picked up a decisive victory in the 4A 500 free at 5:24.66, and Bears coach Mel Smith said he thinks she will do better as the postseason goes on.
“She missed a couple of turns today and that probably cost her the two seconds she needed to qualify for state,” he said. “Like a lot of teams, we had some girls swimming a little slower because of the flu that’s been going around.”