Sehome swimmer Gwendolyn Roley learned early in her career not to limit herself to a certain stroke or a specific distance.
She's proving to be one of the most versatile swimmers in the Northwest Conference two years into her high school career.
Roley owns the No. 1 or 2 times in Whatcom County in the 100 freestyle, 100 backstroke, 200 freestyle, 200 individual medley and 500 freestyle. In addition, she's a fixture in Sehome's three relays.
"One of the things I've been told throughout swimming is to not label yourself," Roley said in a phone interview. "If you label yourself, you won't be able to grow and do different events."
Mariners coach Don Helling knows the value of an all-around swimmer like Roley.
"That's something we encourage," said Helling of having his swimmers try different events. "I feel particularly blessed with this group of kids, because I can move them around and put them in different events."
Perhaps nothing has shown Roley's versatility more than what she accomplished in a dual meet against Anacortes Thursday, Oct. 18, at Fidalgo Pool in Anacortes.
Helling decides who swims what events, but Roley said she asked him if she could swim the 200 individual medley.
Helling obliged, and the super sophomore completed the IM in 2 minutes, 20.70 seconds - a state mark ranking second among Whatcom County swimmers.
Though Roley doesn't limit herself to a certain stroke or distance, she thrived in the 200 and 500 free at the Class 2A State Swimming and Diving Championships a year ago.
She placed seventh in the 500 with a 5:31.23 and finished fifth in the 200 with a time of 2:02.68. Her placings contributed to Sehome winning a state title.
"I really enjoy being on this team," Roley said. "I just like the whole aspect of a team. I never really had that before the high school season. It's kind of like we're a big family."
Roley has already surpassed last year's 200 state time, swimming a 2:01.81 earlier this year. Her top time in the 500 is a 5:31.99.
She's posted state qualifying times in the 200, 500, 100 backstroke and 200 IM, but fortunately for her competition, swimmers can only compete in two individual events at state.
She plans to swim in the 200 and 500 at state again, due to the rule.
Unlike last year, though, Helling expects Roley to be a main contributor in Sehome's relays.
"She is one of the smartest swimmers and thinks a lot more about the race," Helling said. "Nobody works harder in the pool than she does, and she is a super competitor."
Roley reaped the rewards of her hard work last year. The feeling has made her work even harder.
"It was definitely worth it," Roley said. "It was like, 'this is what we are doing this whole thing for, waking up at 5:30 in the morning to run stairs and then be in the pool every day after school.' We didn't know we were going to win but, when we did, it made it all worth it."
Now that Roley has learned how to conduct herself as a varsity swimmer, she spends more time focusing on improving.
"Last year everything was new," Roley admitted. "I remember my first actual meet thinking, 'what the heck is going on, we're using cards?' Now I'm more used to what is going on, and I can help other swimmers because of that."
Helling noticed Roley's work ethic during the first few weeks of practice her freshman year. It's carried over to this season.
"As she came in as a freshman, right from the start, I could tell she is going to be a special swimmer for me," Helling said. "I mentioned her work ethic, this year it's shifted more to a team focus. Last year as a freshman, it's hard to understand until you get through it once. I've been really impressed with her, and she is unflappable. Nothing gets to her before or during a race."
She even has a penchant for dramatic finishes.
Helling explained that some swimmers start fast and fade, some start steady and finish that way and a select few, like Roley, start a little slow and pick swimmers off one by one during the final 100 meters of a distance race.
"She likes to come from behind and negative split. Her dad gets a little nervous when she is in fourth or fifth at the 100-meter mark," Helling joked. "She has that ability even more so in the 500."
The Mariners have already marked off one of their season goals by beating Squalicum and winning a Northwest Conference title. A district title is the next focus before Sehome thinks state championships.
"I know districts will be a really exciting meet," Roley said. "We want to get a top place there and want to get a trophy at state. I personally want to break two minutes in the 200 free."
Reach Andrew Lang at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 360-756-2862.
Reach ANDREW LANG at email@example.com or call ext. 862.