Sehome senior Andy Small is at home in or on the water.
When he's not swimming for the Mariners or the Bellingham Bay Swim Team, he's around the water - either windsurfing or sailing or being a lifeguard.
"It's a natural environment for me," Small said in a phone interview. "It just comes easy."
But as much as he loves it, one aspect of his life on the water will come to an end on Saturday, Feb. 16, during the Class 2A State Championship Boys' Swimming Finals.
It will obviously mark the end of his high school swimming career, but it also will be the beginning of the end for the competitive swimming phase of his life.
Yes, Small said he plans to continue swimming with BBST for the next few months, but he also plans to attend Loyola Marymount University - a school that does not offer men's swimming as a varsity sport - to study computer science or civil engineering beginning next fall.
"I did consider swimming in college," Small said. "But I knew if I went to a big Division-I school, swimming would be my life if I chose to swim. I didn't see myself having much of a life outside of swimming and studying. Swimming is fun, but I don't want it to take over my college experience."
Though Small said he'll consider joining a Los Angeles-area swim club when he gets down there, he knows that Saturday will be the last time he gets to represent his school in the pool.
Even though it will be an extremely difficult task, Small would like to help leave the Sehome program where he came into it - as team state champions.
This will be the fifth time the 2A state title has been contested, and since its inception, the Mariners have claimed the big trophy all four years.
But with the graduation of a last year's senior class and other losses, Sehome suddenly finds itself in the unfamiliar role of underdog.
"We're no longer the favorite this year," Sehome coach Don Helling said in a phone interview. "We're in the mix, but we're not the favorite. Archbishop Murphy has some tremendous top-end swimmers, and it's Anacortes and us chasing them."
Helling said the Wildcats basically have four swimmers who are all seeded among the top five in each of their two individual events and giving them two strong relays. Anacortes also has a couple strong top-end swimmers with a little bit of depth.
Sehome, meanwhile has some highly ranked swimmers, such as Small and fellow seniors Patrick Gregory and Curran Wilbour and sophomore Isaiah Grambo, along with a tremendous amount of depth. In fact Sehome has 12 swimmers and divers qualified in at least one individual event, which helped them claim a district title over Archbishop Murphy and Anacortes last week.
Considering this is the first year that the 2A meet will use a consolation final - meaning 16 swimmers score points, rather than just eight - the Mariners have an outside chance to catch the favorites.
But to do so, they'll need some leadership from swimmers who have been there before - people like Small - pushing everyone else to swim their best.
"Andy is going to play a big part in what we're able to do this year at state," Helling said. "He's a smart kid, a hard worker and a talented swimmer. This year, as a team captain, he's been very focused on just doing what is best for the team. He's just been a great team leader. ... I think he leads by example as much as anything. Whenever it seems that something needs to be done, he doesn't wait for the coaches to point it out."
This weekend, the calm, usually quiet Small hopes to share his experiences from being a part of three straight state championship teams with his teammates to help them achieve everything they possibly can.
"I've really tried to have them put the team first and really step up and get others to step up," Small said. "Obviously, you want to focus on yourself and doing the best you can to help your team. You want to remember your friends on the team. Sure it matters if you win individually, but what's most important is how the team does."
Small definitely has the skills set to help the team individually.
After placing fourth in the 200 individual medley last year, he enters the Friday, Feb. 15, preliminaries seeded third with a season-best time of 2 minutes, 3.97 seconds - less than a second off top-seed Stephen Boden of Archbishop Murphy (2:03.07).
Small, who in addition to being a big part of Sehome's relays, also "threw a little curveball," he said, and will be swimming a different event at state than he has before in the 100 backstroke. He enters seeded fourth in the event with a best time of 57.41 seconds.
"As an IM swimmer, you know he's very good at just about every stroke," Helling said. "He's very smooth. He's got a good feel for the water. That's something that is impossible to teach - you can develop it, but you can't teach it. He's just a natural swimmer."
It was a trait Helling said he noticed immediately in Small when he came out for the team as a freshman and "seemed to skip along the water."
Though that was his first time swimming for Sehome, Small took up club swimming when he was 10 and he family lived in Houston.
"I started so young that I've always just had this natural feel for the water," Small said. "When I'm out at the lake swimming with my friends, I'm the guy that can swim and do things in the water. It just comes easy to me."
But he knows this weekend, nothing will come easy.
"This is my last one, and I really want to go for the win," Small said. "It's going to take a lot of hard work and determination. I think we've had it (the state title), and now Anacortes or Archbishop Murphy are the favorites, so it's up to us to take it away from them. It would be a big accomplishment. We're going to put up a fight - they won't be able to just walk away with the title."
Reach David Rasbach at firstname.lastname@example.org or 360-715-2286.
CLASS 2A STATE SWIMMING CHAMPIONSHIPS
Preliminaries: 9:45 a.m. Friday, Feb. 15
Finals: 10 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 16
Site: King County Aquatic Center, Federal Way
STATE CHAMPIONSHIP HISTORY
Year Champion Runner up Score
2009 Sehome Aberdeen 142-74
2010 Sehome Interlake 127-74
2011 Sehome Interlake 103-98
2012 Sehome Archbishop Murphy 117-86
Reach DAVID RASBACH at email@example.com or call 715-2271.