Gateway: Sports

With small team, Gig Harbor boys swim focused on individual improvement

Gig Harbor swim coach Mike Kelly has a simple message for his swimmers this winter: Every one of them is important to the team’s success.

This year, that rings true more than ever. With only 21 boys swimmers, it’s the smallest team Kelly has coached at Gig Harbor High. That makes every event important.

“The athletes that are here have worked really hard,” Kelly said. “They’ve got a real positive attitude. We can work with that. We started off with some kids not thinking they had much of a role to play on the team and now they’re stepping up.”

So far, it’s been tough sledding for the Tides, losing 105-75 to North Thurston and losing 146-34 to Curtis.

“But during those meets, we had some really good swims and have made a lot of district (-qualifying) times,” Kelly said. “It’s not like in years past where we had the depth that I could really play around with the lineup and didn’t have to worry if I made a mistake here or there. I have to be really on top of my game to make sure all the events are filled and we have our best battle plan ready to go.”

So why is the turnout so low? Kelly floated a theory.

“Everyone I talk to, their numbers are down,” Kelly said. “It’s not a girl thing either, because this year, we had our largest girls team. It’s a guy thing. I just think a lot of distractions are out there for the modern American teenage male. It’s not like when I was growing up, when sports was kind of a big deal for afterschool activities. Now, you’ve got other things like the tech club and video games and just a lot of distractions, which takes away from the talent pool of athletes that we draw from.”

Regardless of whether Kelly’s theory is valid or not, he’ll work with what he has. A couple of the team’s top swimmers are seniors Max Andren and Jake Bertram.

Andren, who swims the 200-yard individual medley and the 500 freestyle, said every meet is a grind.

“I wasn’t expecting the team to be this small — that just means our team has to work a lot harder,” Andren said.

Andren is working to find some consistency in his swims. Last year, his breaststroke was faster than his butterfly. This year, his butterfly is faster than his breaststroke.

“I want to try to get those even again,” Andren said. “It comes down to hard work. I’m focusing on races more and focusing a lot on my technique. Hopefully, I can get to (state) my senior year. That’s what I’m working toward right now. I just realized that I have to work for it.”

Bertram swims the 100 butterfly and the 100 backstroke.

“I want to do the best I’ve ever done, get my best times,” Bertram said. “The last two years, I’ve just gone as an alternate. I want to get the team to state again this year. … If we buckle down, we definitely could get a relay or at least a few people there.”

With so many kids swimming so many events, Kelly is working to make sure the swimmers don’t burn out physically.

“We do a lot of dry land, emphasize stretching, good nutrition and most importantly, getting a lot of sleep,” Kelly said. “Lots of studies show that’s one of the best things you can do. That’s all there.”

Gig Harbor might not win a ton of meets this season, given its lack of depth, but Kelly is more concerned about individual improvement over the course of the season.

“It may be one of those scenarios where we don’t win a lot of meets, but we’re looking for you to give 100 percent of your effort during your races and that you’re trying to improve yourself, because at the end of the day, that’s really who you race,” Kelly said. “We discuss that all the time — you’re racing what your previous best was. You’re not racing the people on either side of you.”