For much of the past two years, Sehome senior Patrick Gregory has spent a lot of his energy in the pool focusing on beating rival Gus Evans.
Seeing as how Evans competed for rival Squalicum, was in the same class in school and the two specialized in the same individual event - the 100 breaststroke - it only made sense.
As sophomores, Evans got the better of Gregory, beating him by three-tenths of a second at the 2011 Class 2A State Championships to claim the breaststroke title. Last year, Gregory got his state title, beating Evans out by nearly six tenths of a second.
"When I look back now, the most important thing I can glean off of that, is that yes, I did improve my time," Gregory said in a phone interview. "At the time, I thought winning was the most important thing. But now I realize it's cutting my times and trying to impress college coaches so that I can move on is what really matters."
That will be all that Gregory will have to focus on for most of this season, as there will be no rubber match.
Evans will no longer be there for Gregory to set his sights on, as the Storm senior has elected not to turn out for the high school swim team so that he could focus on practicing and competing with the Bellingham Bay Swim Team. Evans is one of a handful of area boys' and girls' swimmers to make that choice to swim solely with the club, rather than turning out for the high school team this year.
Even though Evans and Gregory won't be racing head-to-head during the high school season, Gregory said their competitive rivalry is alive as ever.
"Yes, it's true, without him in the high school season, we won't be racing each other, but that rivalry will still be going on, even if it's just about times," said Gregory, who still practices with BBST. "He's still going to be swimming and competing and trying to put up the best times he can, and I'm going to be doing the same thing. I think, because we made different choices, it might be even more of a rivalry."
It's a rivalry, Gregory said, that many other area swimmers, who might be deciding whether to turn out for high school swimming or stick solely with BBST, might be watching closely.
With his sights set on dropping his own times and catching the eye of college coaches, Gregory enters the 2012-13 season, which opens with the Northwest Conference Relays on Friday, Nov. 30, at Arne Hanna Aquatic Center, very focused.
"He looks really good," Sehome coach Don Helling said in a phone interview. "He's as motivated as I've ever seen him. He's very focused, and we're expecting big things from him this year."
Helling knows to expect big things from Gregory, as he is the fourth in a line of Gregory siblings to move through the Mariners' swim program. Older sister Kelly was part of Sehome's 2A state title in 2007.
"He's a guy that came on strong relatively late, and it's been fun to watch his progress in high school swimming," Helling said. "He's gone from a typical age-group swimmer to one that is challenging at the top end. It's been fun watching his battle with Gus, and I think it's been good for both them. Having somebody here in town that you can go back and forth with, I'm going to miss that, and I know he will, but I'm sure there will be plenty of competition with the new makeup 2A."
And Gregory should be plenty prepared for whatever new challenges are thrown his direction.
Helling said what makes Gregory so effective in the breaststroke is his naturally strong kick.
"He's always had a really solid stroke," Helling said. "But he's stronger now, and he's learned a lot about competing in close races. When somebody is challenging him, that is when Patrick is at his best."
It's no longer just in the breaststroke, either.
Helling said Gregory has matured into a much better swimmer in the freestyle events and relays.
And that's not the only place he's seen growth in the senior.
"He's been in the background, as far as a leader, until this year," Helling said. "This year's, I've seen him and Andy (Small) and Curran (Wilbour) really taking the leadership reins. ... He's really stepped forward and helped this team in organization and being a leader by example."
One area Gregory is particularly proud of being a leader is in the choice of team sweatshirts. No longer will the Mariners be wearing sweatshirts with vinyl lettering, but Gregory and the rest of the seniors decided to have the team get stitched crew necks - "We're going to look good," Gregory joked.
He also said he's tried to set a good example of what it takes to be successful for a talented group of incoming Sehome freshmen and help them build relationships that will help them stick with swimming.
Ultimately, he said, that was what made him decide to return for his senior year in high school swimming.
"I wrestled with that quite a bit," Gregory said. "When it came down to it, out of all the years I've done swimming, what I've gotten the most out of it is not going faster or competing against higher levels of competition, it's the relationships. Those are the most valuable things I've gained out of swimming."
But don't get Gregory wrong - he enjoys the thrill of going fast against top-level competition, too.
"I think the biggest thing for me this year is I want to compete against myself and go as fast as I possibly can," Gregory said. "If I can do that and help this team get better, then I can swim fast times and get to the places I want to be."
Reach David Rasbach at email@example.com or 360-715-2286.
Reach DAVID RASBACH at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 715-2271.