For anyone who has seen Willow Lopez-Silvers chase down and out-touch the competition, it might be a little hard to imagine.
But there she was — the girl who would one day be a state champion — standing up on the blocks, crying.
“It was one of those moments,” the Curtis High School senior said of her first high-school swim meet. “I was scared out of my mind.”
Ironically, Lopez-Silvers started swimming competitively at age 7 and by the time she suited up for the Vikings as a freshman, “had been in a million and one meets.”
Curtis coach Holly Arasim said she remembers Lopez-Silvers’ “deer in the headlights” moment well.
“It was kind of funny, like, ‘Really? You’re nervous about this and you’ve done however many meets?’ ” she said. “It definitely surprised me.”
Four years later, Lopez-Silvers no longer cries in the pool. She dominates it.
“I’m a little better now,” joked the defending Class 4A state champion in the 100-yard freestyle (52.93 seconds) and Curtis’ school record-holder in the 100 backstroke (59.05).
Arasim said Lopez-Silvers, one of the veteran leaders on a Vikings team of nearly 80 swimmers, refuses to end up anywhere but in the lead.
“She does not like to let the competition get under her skin,” she said of Lopez-Silvers, who also swims for Metro Aquatics and plays water polo for Curtis. “She likes to out-touch them at the wall. It’s really fun to watch her race.”
At state last year, Lopez-Silvers aspired to beat defending 100 freestyle champion Elisa Fang of Newport — but “wasn’t really expecting it to be as good as it ended up being.”
In fact, she didn’t initially realize she had won.
“First you find your name, look at your time to see if it’s any good, and then look at the placing,” she said. “It took a moment. I was a little shocked.”
Having a state title hasn’t made Lopez-Silvers complacent, though. Her goal this year is to break the 52-second mark in the 100 freestyle, which she says is her favorite event.
“It’s longer than a 50, so it’s more technique, but it’s not so long that I get tired.”
Senior Sabrina Murray, who swims with Lopez-Silvers on Curtis’ 200-medley and 400-freestyle relay teams, said that her longtime teammate has remained humble despite winning a state title.
“She is pretty laid-back about it,” Murray said. “She works hard and knows what she needs to do to get back to where she will be the best again.”
Lopez-Silvers, an honors student and aspiring teacher, plans to swim in college and is considering a pair of East Coast schools, along with one in Nebraska.
“I want to get far, far away,” the University Place native said with a laugh, adding, “I moved up the street once.”
But first things first.
“I’m hoping to make a good standing at districts and state,” Lopez-Silvers said, “and do as well as I can.”
And go out on top? Her coach thinks it’s a possibility.
“That would be amazing,” Arasim said. “We’ll see what happens as we get there, but I wouldn’t rule it out.”