It didn’t take long for Gig Harbor High School sophomore swimmer Andrew Sexton to make a splash this season.
Just a couple weeks into the season, Sexton already posted a state qualifying time of 49.20 seconds in the 100-yard freestyle event on Dec. 8 at the 43rd annual Foss Falcon Relays.
“Last year, I don’t think I was even close to a state time at this point in the season, especially in the 100,” Sexton said. “By the end of the year, I was at maybe 50-flat, and that was shaved and tapered. To be able to go faster than that without shaving or tapering, it was very surprising.”
Sexton said he attributes the growth to working nonstop during the offseason, including swimming with the Gig Harbor-based Narrows Swim Club.
“I trained really hard,” Sexton said. “After the season ended, I just trained with Narrows almost every day for the rest of the year until I came back to here. I also did drylands and just built muscle and endurance. I was doing that all during the offseason.”
Sexton is one of several young faces making up some of the top-end talent for the Tides this season. Freshman Billy Oates, a student at Bellarmine Prep in Tacoma, swims for Gig Harbor and is neck-and-neck with Sexton early in the season. Oates also posted a state qualifying time in the 100 free at 49.32 seconds. Oates and Sexton have been able to push each other in practices this season.
“It definitely keeps me going,” Oates said of the friendly competition. “I think it’s fun for both of us to have someone to race, have someone to go against. It definitely improves both of us.”
Oates recently moved to Gig Harbor from the Sacramento area in California.
“I’m loving it here,” Oates said. “I love the rain, I love being near the water. Coach (Mike Kelly) is awesome. I’m loving the program here.”
Oates has battled a nagging left shoulder injury recently but feels strong so far this winter.
“I’m just trying to come back from that,” Oates said. “I went to physical therapy, I’ve been training with Mike and I’ve been going to Crossfit to try to get some strength back.”
The team has about 28 members this year.
“It’s a pretty young team, a lot of underclassmen who are having a positive impact for us right now,” Kelly said. “It’s a good mix of skilled athletes and learning athletes. It’s not quite as large a team as we’ve had in the past.”
The team also doesn’t have any divers for the second year in a row, leaving Kelly to wonder why the program’s participation has slowed during recent years.
“The program has had such a storied tradition over the last few decades,” Kelly said. “To just go from people making it to state to not even having people show up is kind of hard to get a grasp of.
“It seems harder and harder to get a modern American teenage male to show up for any kind of after-school activity, with the advent of electronics and computers. I’m just thrilled that we still get 30 guys into the pool every day.”
With Sexton, Oates, freshman London Coats, senior Bryce Brabham and others, the Tides should have a good chance of having some state-level relay teams, also.
“Hopefully, we can defend our conference championship, take first or second at districts and get a couple relays into the top eight at state,” Kelly said. “With both free relays, if everyone connects with what they’re on target for, you could see a top six. I’m optimistic.
“I think this year, we’ve got enough of a base, that we should be able to accomplish the district and league goals and when you get to state, it’s a whole different environment.”