Last year, the Gig Harbor High School girls swim team finished 12th at the Class 3A state swim meet with 73 points, just five behind Shorecrest.
This year, they have assembled a smaller squad but the focus has shifted to creating more depth through intense training in the pool.
Sometimes swimming up to seven times a week, the Tides are putting in the work to break through barriers through equal parts exercise on dry land and pushing themselves in the water.
“It is tiring, I’m not going to lie,” said senior Megan Hanson. “Swim season is about working through the pain that you are constantly in. That’s how you get better. Because when you push through the pain, there’s a barrier. And when you push past it, then you see the results.”
Last season, Hanson was one of the Gig Harbor swimmers that made it to state. She finished ninth in the 200 freestyle with a time of 1 minute, 58.27 seconds.
This season, she is a returning senior and named as one of the two team captains.
“My best event is the 200 free. That’s kind of what I do,” she said. “I am a freestyler, but I also do breaststroke as well in the relay.”
Hanson was also on the 200 free relay team with Jenna Anderson, Sarah Grady and Teghan Miller that placed fifth at state with a time of 1:40.56.
Typically, the Tides’ practice begins after school with a visit to the mat room where the athletes do some in place calisthenics, core work and stretching before reaching the pool and swimming for two hours.
The Tides’ training certainly differs from what coach Mike Kelly grew up with, but he dedicates his time to helping his swimmers maximize their performance at the right time.
“Over the last 27 years of coaching here and at Peninsula, I’ve found what works and what hasn’t worked,” Kelly said. “It’s many decades of learning and trying to keep up on modern techniques, technology and modern training in swimming.”
Rather than swimming a lot of miles in one day, Kelly has his team focus on high quality shorter distance training.
That kind of training has benefited Miller as she is a sprinter in water polo as well as in her preferred events of the 50 and 100 freestyle.
“[Training] is a lot of quick intervals. It’s a lot of no breaks, short distance, just go-go-go,” she said. “My main struggle is that my technique is not the best, but when you are a freestyle sprinter, you just throw your arms. I just keep kicking and keeping control of my arms, stroke and breathing.”
Miller is the other captain named to the Tides’ swim team, having finished 13th in the 100 free with a time of 54.77.
Funnily enough, swimming was at first a tool to help keep Miller in shape for water polo, but found herself in love with it after keeping with the sport.
“Swimming [gives] me a really good team, and friends that will last a lifetime,” she said. “I get a really good source of how to get my energy and stress out, and it gives me something to shoot for, like a good goal.”
From the outside looking in, it can be tough to remember that even though there are a lot of individual events, this is still a team sport and the Tides’ exemplify that during relays.
“We got fifth in the 200 free relay last year at state,” Hanson said. “And just finishing that, cheering each other from behind the blocks and when you finish that, when you’re standing on the podium, it’s like ‘Guys, we did this.’”
The same goes for Miller as she feels that the aspect of “team” means that sometimes an off day with bad times won’t drag down the whole team.
“It’s nice to know that you have the whole team supporting you,” she said. “It’s not the end of the world if you don’t win. But I think relays are a good way to have a team. That’s why I love being on relays.”
And with the swimmers come the divers as well. Last season as a freshman, Shaye DiMatteo claimed fourth at state with 362 points scored.
“We’ve got great divers, I’m really excited,” Kelly said. “Our divers look really talented. I know in the post season meets where it’s important, you can look to see all three of our divers doing really well, all the way through state.”
With the divers and swimmers coming together and putting forth their best effort, Kelly believes the Tides will once again be a powerhouse not only in the 3A SSC, but across the state again.
“They’re just a fantastic group of young ladies. I’m always amazed at the knowledge that they have, not only about swimming but life in general,” Kelly said. “This year’s group is very well meshed together… This year’s team seems really built on one foundation and with the one thought of being successful through this season.”
The Tides will hit the pool again at and compete against Shelton at 3:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 19 at Gig Harbor High School.