BELLINGHAM - Sehome seniors Patrick Gregory, Andy Small and Curran Wilbour aren't likely to forget their final high school dual swim meet any time soon.
Not only were they and six other Mariner seniors honored in a mid-meet ceremony on Thursday, Jan. 24, at Arne Hanna Aquatic Center, but they claimed a fourth-straight Northwest Conference regular-season championship with a 106-76 victory in a meet that featured not one, but two ties and a strange disqualification.
Sehome actually has won the NWC title all seven years of the conference's existence, as the Mariners once again finished with an unblemished NWC mark at 6-0 (7-0 overall).
"That's a big deal for our guys to win four years in a row," Small said. "I'm awfully proud of how the guys stepped up."
A Sehome conference title has been a precursor to 2A Northwest District and a 2A state titles the past four years, as the Mariners have claimed the 2A crown all four years it has been contested. Whether that string stretches to five will be determined at the district meet on Feb. 8-9 at Anacortes and the state championships Feb. 15-16 at Federal Way.
But Sehome has at least laid the foundation with Thursday's win in a battle of the NWC's final two unbeaten teams.
"It's pretty exciting that we were able to win it all four years," Gregory said. "Hopefully this gets the guys excited and shows them that we are capable of winning a district title and maybe even contending for state again. Hopefully it will push the younger guys to go for a conference championship next year."
Considering it will lose nearly half the team that was in attendance Thursday and with the strength showed Thursday by Anacortes, which was missing a couple top swimmers, next year is going to be a challenge for the Mariners.
And Sehome didn't have an easy ride to the NWC crown on Thursday, as Anacortes grabbed outright wins in five of 11 events, and that's not counting the two that ended in a tie.
That total would have been only four, if not for a strange series of events at the start of the 100 butterfly.
After the diving competition, which the Mariners' Rocky Rantz won with a score of 179.90, Sehome honored its nine seniors with balloons and a short ceremony. Once that ceremony was over, Wilbour quickly stripped out of his warm-ups and hustled to the blocks for the start of the butterfly.
As he and the other four swimmers settled in for the start of the race, the race official accidentally signaled the starting beep before having the racers set.
"I didn't hear him set us, and I was like, 'Am I missing something?'" Wilbour said. "I decided to go."
Wilbour quickly hauled himself out and got back on the blocks for the "official" start, but as soon as he hit the water the second time, he took two freestyle strokes. He quickly realized his mistake and adjusted back to a butterfly and ended up finishing first by a sizable margin over Anacortes' Danny Schleh. Wilbour admitted his mistake and was disqualified for using the illegal stroke.
"I've only been swimming the 200 and 500 freestyles all season, so I just kind of went with what I was used to doing," Wilbour said. "When you lose focus on what you're doing, bad things can happen."
His penance - if you want to call it that - was to swim the 500 freestyle, immediately followed by a leg in the 200 freestyle relay.
Wilbour was touched out by four hundredths of a second by Anacortes' Ian Schleh (5 minutes, 7.47 seconds) in a very competitive 500 race, but he swam a strong anchor leg to hold a lead that Josh Larson, Gregory and Isaiah Grambo gave him in the relay to help the Mariners win in 1:34.96.
"I was supposed to swim the second leg, but fortunately we were able to work it out so I could swim the last," Wilbour said. "Man that was tough. I had to swim a real fast 500, and then get out and sprint another 50. ... I'm too tired to think about it right now."
Gregory may not have had it that rough, but he did find himself going head-to-head with the Seahawks' Karl Akland, who owned the sixth-fastest 2A time in the state in the 50 freestyle coming into the day.
Gregory not only pushed Akland to knock seven hundredths off his best time in the event, but tied him in the process, as they were judged to have hit the wall simultaneously in 22.82 seconds.
"I knew it was going to be tough, and I just swam as hard as I could," Gregory said. "It wasn't trying to tie, obviously, but I was happy I made the state cut. Making the cut in the 50 free is probably the second toughest one for me, behind the 100 free."
While things couldn't have gotten any closer in the 50 free, Gregory couldn't have had it much easier in the 100 breaststroke, as the defending state champion in the event led a 1-2-3 finish for Sehome with freshman Joseph Adams and sophomore Patrick Lisosky to lock up the dual meet win and the title for the Mariners. Gregory's winning time was 1:04.49.
"It's always fun to do that in an event," Gregory said. "I was really excited for those two young guys to put up good times like they did."
Small was hoping to post a state-qualifying time in the 100 freestyle, as he too was going up against Akland, who again owned the sixth-fastest time in the event so far this year. Though he too managed to keep pace with Akland and touch the wall at the same time, his time of 51.37 seconds was just under a half second slower than the state-qualifying standard of 50.90.
"Getting that tie in the 100 was crazy," Small said. "I was pushing myself, but I feel like I could have swam a better time - I left something in the pool. Getting a tie doesn't help the team get a win."
But Small simply dominated in his other individual event, winning the 200 individual medley by nearly 14 seconds in 2:06.96 and heading a 1-2 finish with Lisosky in the event.
"I've swam the IM all four years, and I feel like I've kept getting better in it," Small said. "We'll see what that means down the road here."
Small and Gregory also teamed with Grambo and Isaac Day to win the 200 medley relay in 1:45.71.
Reach David Rasbach at firstname.lastname@example.org or 360-715-2286.
SEHOME 106, ANACORTES 76
200 medley relay: Sehome (Andy Small, Patrick Gregory, Isaiah Grambo, Isaac Day) 1:45.71; 200 freestyle: Ian Schleh (Anacortes) 1:49.14; 200 individual medley: Andy Small (Sehome) 2:06.96; 50 freestyle: (tie) Patrick Gregory (Sehome) and Karl Akland (Anacortes) 22.82; Diving: Rocky Rantz (Sehome) 179.90; 100 butterfly: Danny Schleh (Anacortes) 1:00.22; 100 freestyle: (tie) Andy Small (Sehome) and Karl Akland (Anacortes) 51.37; 500 freestyle: Ian Schleh (Anacortes) 5:07.47; 200 freestyle relay: Sehome (Josh Larson, Patrick Gregory, Isaiah Grambo, Curran Wilbour) 1:34.96; 100 backstroke: Blake Norton (Anacortes) 1:02.46; 100 breaststroke: Patrick Gregory (Sehome) 1:04.49; 400 freestyle relay: Anacortes (Ian Schleh, Karl Akland, Danny Schleh, Blake Norton) 3:34.27.
Reach DAVID RASBACH at email@example.com or call 715-2271.