The last time the Curtis High School boys swimming team won a state title was 1992.
It will have a chance for another when the Vikings compete in the 4A boys swimming and diving state championships at the King County Aquatic Center on Friday and Saturday.
“We are really veteran heavy,” Vikings coach Dennis Piccolotto said. “So we have a lot of guys who’ve had this experience as far as state goes for several years now. They know what state is going to look like. They know what it’s going to feel like. They know what the water tastes like. They’ve been there before. But we also have a nice group of first-timers that makes things more interesting."
Curtis will have 12 swimmers competing in 22 events at the state finals.
One of the veterans is senior Sam Abbott, a versatile athlete who is also one of the Vikings’ best baseball players and a three-time state MVP for Curtis’ water polo team — a club sport in which the Vikings have won back-to-back state titles. Abbott signed a letter of intent to play water polo at Long Beach State University in California.
But before that, he’ll enjoy his final trip to the King County Aquatic Center for the state swimming championships. Abbott placed third in the 100 freestyle and fifth in the 50 freestyle in the 4A state finals last season.
He is the top seed in the 100 freestyle at 46.78 seconds and the fourth seed in the 50 freestyle at 21.62 seconds. He will swim the anchor leg for the Vikings in all three of their relays.
Abbott’s leadership over the past four years has inspired his teammates, like fellow senior Matt Patterson.
“If there’s one person I know that’s just a definitive athlete in every sense of the word, it’s him,” Patterson said of Abbott. “You look at all the sports he’s done. Even sports he hasn’t done. Every once in a while we’ll play football and he’s still the champion.”
Patterson qualified for state in the 500 freestyle this year with a time of 4 minutes, 55.35 seconds. He will also swim in the 200 freestyle after posting 1:49.49 in that event.
Abbott said he learned a lot from his mother, an Olympic swimmer for the former Soviet Union in the 1980s.
“She’s always watching my meets, always giving me feedback on things I can do better,” Abbott said. “A lot of sprinters tend to cut off their stroke and not really finish. So you lose a lot of your power, and that’s one thing she’s really helped me with. Swimming fast is swimming slow. You don’t really want to be spinning your wheels in the water. You want to be efficient."
Piccolotto credits the rise of the Curtis swimming program to continuity and the foundational work of former coaches Jim Baurichter who was on staff from 1980-2005 and Mark Olson (1984-2014).
All four of the Vikings’ current swim coaches; Holly Arasim, Alex Hacker, Chris Barrett, and Piccolotto, are alumni of Curtis.
“Olson taught me how to work hard, how to set goals, how to believe in myself,” said Piccolotto, who began assisting Olson in 2003. “These are the same qualities we’re trying to instill in these guys today.”
Sophomore Jorge Melendez is one of several promising underclassmen who hope to make an impact for the Vikings at state.
“Every single meet he’s just gotten faster and faster,” Arasim said of Melendez, who has qualified for state in the 200 individual medley and the 100 butterfly. “It’s just a testament to how hard he works. He just gets down to business just like Sammy (Abbott) does.”
Other state-bound Vikings include; seniors Dan Melin, David Ling, Josh Arnold and Zack Havard, juniors Abhi Larsen, Alex Hwang, Justin Riggins, sophomore Sam Guffey, and freshman Joe Melin.