The only person who doesn’t seem to realize Sam Abbott’s speed is, well, Sam Abbott.
Just consider the Curtis High School junior’s assessment of last year’s Class 4A state championship finals, where he placed fifth in the 200-yard freestyle, in 1 minute 45.70 seconds, and also swam the 100 freestyle and on two relays, helping Curtis to a surprise eighth-place finish in the team standings.
“It was really fun,” he said, “and I was kind of in awe the second day with all the fast swimmers.”
Not exactly, Abbott maintains.
“I got fifth,” he said. “So there were four people in front of me.”
“Once you get satisfied with your performance, you start going slower. You always have to get better.”
Abbott’s attitude comes as no surprise to Vikings coach Dennis Piccolotto, who called him a leader for a deep team that returns 10 of Curtis’ 11 state competitors. Abbott already has qualified for state in the three freestyle events, and is expected to anchor a pair of relays.
“You know he’s the best swimmer by watching him in the water,” Piccolotto said. “But you wouldn’t know by talking to him. He’s one of the most humble kids I have ever coached.
“A true class act.”
Senior Garrett Friedman, who swam on the state relays with Abbott, said he is a “great guy.”
“He’s just a really great, dependable swimmer,” Friedman said. “He has a really powerful stroke, so he’s really fast.”
Piccolotto said the key to Abbott’s success is his strength. He plays three positions on Curtis’ baseball team and is a two-time reigning offensive MVP in the state water polo tournament, which the Vikings won in 2015.
“You watch him swim even the 50 and it looks like he’s not even moving,” Piccolotto said. “He’s not spinning his wheels. He’s just powerful.”
Abbott credits that to becoming a “smarter swimmer” in the last year.
“The physical part, anyone can do,” he said. “If you’re willing to do it mentally, that’s what determines how good swimmers become great.
“I really value and strive to make my mental part the best, which will lead to physical results.”
Genetics may play a role, too: Abbott’s mother swam for the then-Soviet Union in the 1980 Olympics, and his father was a baseball player in high school.
“I’m proud of my mom and I want to follow in her footsteps,” said Abbott, who started swimming at age 4 and also competes for the UPAC club team.
Abbott, an honors student with an affinity for math, plans to study business marketing in college. He would like to play collegiate water polo — “it’s a select community” — but being recruited for swimming or baseball would be just fine, too.
In the meantime, there is plenty to do for the Vikings.
Abbott said the team works hard to keep the tradition of Curtis’ aquatics program alive.
“We do a lot of the same stuff swimmers in the 1980s were doing,” he said.
Like seeking state championships.
Abbott said that while winning a state water polo title always will be special because it was his first, to do so in swimming would be equally thrilling.
“It would represent all of the years and years of work I have put in,” he said.
And, not surprisingly, he framed the possibility around the competition he could face in February.
“There are so many swimmers in the state,” Abbott said. “It would be kind of unreal.”
Boys swimming primer
TEAMS TO WATCH
4A – Curtis: Curtis had a Cinderella-type season last year, placing eighth with one swimmer in all 12 events at state, and the expectation this year is for an even better run behind Sam Abbott and twins (and captains) Garrett and Troy Friedman. Curtis won its league and district titles last year.
3A – Wilson: The Rams enter as the favorite to dethrone North Thurston as the 3A Narrows champs. Wilson has four returning state finishers, including Chris Harkness (19th in the 200 freestyle and 16th in the 500 free) and Sam Sachs (21st in the 200 free, 23rd in the 500 free).
2A – Steilacoom: The Sentinels took a big hit when James Scott, an Arizona State-bound senior and a two-time state champion in the 100 breaststroke, decided to compete for the King County Aquatic Club rather than his school team in his senior season. But the Sentinels are off to a 6-0 start.
4A – Sam Abbott, Curtis, jr.: Kentridge’s Dillon DePriest decided to focus on club swimming, so Abbott is the top returner in the 200 freestyle. He’s already a state qualifier in that, the 50 free and the 100 free.
3A – Rafael Rodriguez, Sumner, soph.: Hadn’t even attempted a dive before mid-November of last year, but missed qualifying for state by a point and could place high this time around.
2A – Seth Koivisto, Steilacoom, jr.: Coach Kathy Casey says Koivisto’s offseason dedication to the pool and gym led to his dramatic time drops in the 100 breaststroke and 200 individual medley.
RETURNING STATE SWIMMERS
200 freestyle – 5. Sam Abbott, Curtis, 1:45.70; 13. Ryan Grady, Gig Harbor, 1:47.16; 14. Noah Willers, Stadium, 1:48.43; 19. Dawson Allen, Gig Harbor, 1:49.73.
200 individual medley – 11. Garrett Friedman, Curtis, 2:00.99; 12. Andrew Wright, Olympia, 2:01.02; 15. Troy Friedman, Curtis, 2:02.30; 19. Griffin Doane, Gig Harbor, 2:04.25; 20. Jake Davies, Kentridge, 2:04.31; 22. David Ling, Curtis, 2:05.14.
Diving – 5. JJ Spoja, Curtis, 353.70.
100 butterfly – 17. Noah Willers, Stadium, 54.94; 20. Alex Wu, Curtis, 55.44; 23. Casey Nguyen, Thomas Jefferson, 56.72.
100 freestyle – 25. Seamus Grant, Stadium, 50.56.
500 freestyle – 12. Ryan Grady, Gig Harbor, 4:54.44; 15. John Armstrong, Stadium, 4:56.33; 18. Matt Patterson, Curtis, 5:03.28; 22. Josh Arnold, Curtis, 5:07.09.
100 backstroke – 10. Dylan Macabitas, South Kitsap, 54.61; 11. Jake Davies, Kentridge, 55.85; 14. Alex Wu, Curtis, 57.13; 15. Dan Melin, Curtis, 58.11; 23. Casey Nguyen, Thomas Jefferson, 59.28.
100 breaststroke – 6. Ryan St. John, Curtis, 59.36; 12. Andrew Wright, Olympia, 1:01.46; 15. Garrett Friedman, Curtis, 1:03.18; 19. Griffin Doane, Gig Harbor, 1:02.80; 22. Troy Friedman, Curtis, 1:03.24; 23. David Ling, Curtis, 1:03.82.
200 freestyle – 11. Brandon Vick, Enumclaw, 1:51.94; 19. Chris Harkness, Wilson, 1:52.54; 21. Sam Sachs, Wilson, 1:53.72.
200 individual medley – 15. Ethan Horan, Enumclaw, 2:08.86; 22. Evan Chard, Wilson, 2:12.80.
100 freestyle – 19. Alex Gayvoronski, Wilson, 51.20.
500 freestyle – 15. Brandon Vick, Enumclaw, 4:59.24; 16. Chris Harkness, Wilson, 5:01.79; 23. Sam Sachs, Wilson, 5:16.28; 24. Ryan Engledow, Bonney Lake, 5:22.77.
100 backstroke – 21. Preston Bocchi, Lakes, 59.03.
Diving – 3. Jon Netzel, Shelton, 419.35; 7. Troy Krumpols, Shelton, 419.35; 12. Zach Netzel, Shelton, 301.75; 15. Tyler Nichols, Peninsula, 286.85; 19. Luke Netzel, Shelton, 190.90.
Diving – 10. Kenan McIlhenny, Steilacoom, 298.55; 12. Noah Burlingame, Steilacoom, 290.45; 13. Graham Murphy, Steilacoom, 284.85.
100 butterfly – 21. Vaughn Christensen, Steilacoom, 59.38,
100 backstroke – 23. Connor Barr, Steilacoom, 1:03.20; Noah Burlingame, Steilacoom, DQ.