Water doesn't always squelch a fire.
In the case of Sehome freshman swimmer Hannah Holmgren, it only makes it burn hotter.
"She's has got an amazing competitive spirit," Mariners coach Don Helling said in a phone interview. "Some kids, you just look at them, and they have this quiet confidence, and then you see them race, and they are so competitive - when they get in against some competition, that only pushes them to go harder. They do everything they can to win. She's one of those kinds of swimmers."
It didn't take Don Helling long to discover how competitive Holmgren was when she took to the pool for the Mariners.
"When she started swimming, we weren't so sure if she was going to be a state swimmer in her first year," Helling said in a phone interview. "We just didn't know a whole lot about her. Then in the first meet she was eligible for, she got in a pretty good race, and it just pushed her to go faster, and we saw that she had a pretty good shot at getting to state."
Holmgren's competitive spirit has carried her to the Class 2A State Championships Friday and Saturday, Nov. 9-10, at the King County Aquatic Center in four events.
Not only did Holmgren qualify for state in her best event - the 100 breaststroke - with the sixth-fastest time in 2A (1 minute, 11.20 seconds), she also made it as member of the Mariners' 200 medley and 200 freestyle relays and in high school swimming's toughest event - the 200 individual medley - as the 12th seed (2:22.36).
"I'm really excited to swim against the fastest swimmers in the state and have them push me to swim even faster," Holmgren said in a phone interview.
So what kindled Holmgren's competitive fire?
Though it probably happened in a pool, it actually wasn't swimming. Holmgren started swimming for the Bellingham Bay Swim Team when she was 7 but gave it up at age 11 so that she could pursue playing year-round with the Fraser Valley Water Polo Club in Langley, B.C.
"I'd say playing water polo makes you really competitive and a real hard worker," Holmgren said.
But the skills of water polo don't all necessarily transfer over to swimming as well as you might think.
Yes, both sports are in the water and require swimming and some tremendous physical stamina, but the strokes - especially the freestyle and backstroke water polo players use - are completely different from what is used in races.
Holmgren said the only stroke that water polo really translates well to is the breaststroke, because water polo players use the kick to tread water.
"I think it does a good job of building strength and giving you a feel for the water," Helling said. "Those transfer directly. But you develop strokes for water polo that don't carry over well to swimming."
But what did adapt well was Holmgren's desire to compete and refusal to back down from a challenge.
Those aren't Holmgren's only strong traits.
"She's the kind of kid that you ask to do something with her stroke or a turn, and you can tell she tries it and assesses it and makes the changes," Helling said. "She really soaks it in. She is so easy to coach and just a great kid to be around. She is so team oriented, and then you add in her competitiveness, and she's just a great person to be a part of this team."
The truth of the mater is she has just scratched the surface for what she can do, as she continues to learn and get better and faster.
Holmgren, whose older brother, Trevor, swam for the Mariners when he was in high school, said she is now considering playing water polo just in the summer, rather than year-round.
"I've really enjoyed swimming this year," Holmgren said. "All my teammates are super."
Now she looks forward to her first taste of state competition.
"I'm really excited," she said. "I'm just going to go out there with a lot of intensity and without any expectations and swim as hard as I can."
But if she gets in a tight race, watch out.
Reach David Rasbach at firstname.lastname@example.org or 360-715-2286.
CLASS 2A STATE SWIMMING CHAMPIONSHIPS
Preliminaries: 9:45 a.m. Friday, Nov. 9
Finals: 10 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 10
Site: King County Aquatic Center, Federal Way
Reach DAVID RASBACH at email@example.com or call 715-2271.