Though Sehome boys' swim coach Don Helling was extremely pleased with his team's second-place finish at last month's Class 2A State Championship, there was a small sense of disappointment among the swimmers themselves, particularly the seniors, such as Patrick Gregory.
That's what happens for swimmers that have been part of a program that had won the first four 2A titles that were contested.
"I was happy, but I was also disappointed," Gregory said in a phone interview. "I guess you could call it bittersweet. I was able to pull a repeat in the 100 breaststroke, but I wasn't able to better my own WIAA record in the event, and I was a little disappointed we didn't pull off first place overall again. Archbishop Murphy was tough, but we went in thinking we had a chance, but it just didn't happen."
Even though that string of dominance did not continue this winter, Gregory made sure another one did.
Gregory, who not only was a repeat state champion in the 100 breaststroke but also was part of the Mariners' title defense in the 200 medley relay, has been selected The Bellingham Herald's All-Whatcom County Boys' Swimmer of the Year. Bellingham's Jeff Anderson, who led a resurgence for the Red Raiders program this winter, has been selected the Coach of the Year.
Gregory's selection marks the eighth straight year the honor has been won by a Sehome swimmer - all eight years the award has been selected.
He follows in the footsteps of recent Mariners greats Colin Flynn (2006-08), Austin Fish (2009-11) and Cole Avery (2012).
"I think he fits right in with that group," Helling said in a phone interview. "He is part of a swimming tradition with his family, and he's fit right in here at Sehome."
But the biggest focus for Gregory during his senior season was making sure that everybody fit in - from the top-end swimmers that he definitely was one of, to the numerous freshmen and first-time swimmers, to the last guy on the team and everybody in between.
Gregory, who served as team captain along with fellow senior Andy Small this year, said he drew a lot from swimming with previous leaders such as Fish, older brother Jordan Fish and Alex Thon.
"I looked up to those guys for so long," Gregory said. "My goal at the beginning of the season was to do the same thing for the current underclassmen that they (previous Sehome leaders) did for me. I just wanted to help out the younger kids in the same way I was helped out when I first got here. I know it really made a difference for me."
From a coach's perspective, Gregory, Small and the rest of the Mariners seniors did an excellent job of that, Helling said.
"It was a tough year to be a leader," Helling said. "We had a lot of turnover this year and a ton of new swimmers. What I saw is how they helped the younger and newer swimmers feel like an important part of the team."
And when one of the best swimmers on the team - let alone in the state - makes you feel important, it's likely to stick with you.
Gregory definitely re-established himself among the elite in the state with his performance at the state meet last month in Federal Way.
But that's nothing new.
"He's definitely been our Mr. February swimmer for a number of years now," Helling said. "You never know what's going to happen with him once his taper kicks in. I thought he did an outstanding job this year of working hard throughout the year to maximize the effect of the taper when we did cut back."
Always a perfectionist, Gregory was hoping for a little more, though.
His winning time of 59.12 seconds, didn't quite measure up to his own meet-record time of 58.69 seconds set a year ago. And even though his time this year was nearly 2 seconds faster than anyone else in the field, that simply wasn't all he was looking for.
"I really wanted to beat my own time, but it just didn't happen this year," Gregory said. "But defending the title did feel pretty good."
In addition to his individual title, his breaststroke leg in the medley relay was vital to getting Sehome the title in that event. In fact Gregory was a part of three-straight state-title medley relays for Sehome.
Though Gregory is obviously very talented in the breaststroke, he's not a one-event specialist, as many breaststrokers are. He also swam leadoff in Sehome's second-place 200 freestyle relay.
"Breaststroke is an odd duck," Helling said. "You don't have a lot of breaststrokers that are good in other events. Occasionally, you will have someone like Patrick who is good in breaststroke and in the freestyle, but breaststrokers are generally a different breed because the kick is so different. You're kicking with the side of your foot, rather than an up-and-down motion in the other strokes. Usually when you've got someone who is strong in the breaststroke, it doesn't transfer over.
"Austin was one of those all-around swimmers that could excel in every stroke, and Patrick is a guy that excels in the breast and is very strong in the freestyle too. Those are guys that just have an innate ability to swim."
Gregory plans to continue utilizing his natural ability next year at Cal Lutheran.
He said he felt the Division III Kingsmen offered him not only a great academic scholarship package, but also an opportunity to keep swimming in its proper perspective.
"They have a strong swim team, and that was a draw, but it wasn't as big a draw as the academics at the school," said Gregory, who is considering a major in biochemical engineering. "They were Division III, so they couldn't offer me an athletic scholarship, but I still wanted to swim in college. I think swimming there will allow me to focus on my academics. A lot of Division I guys who swim, that's all they focus on is swimming. Here, I'll get to practice once or twice a day and still compete, but I can focus on my academics, which is really important to me."
Gregory said he made the choice over Claremont-McKenna College in California, Washington State and Washington.
Though he can't wait to get started with the next step of his life in Thousand Oaks, Gregory said he is grateful for his time on the Sehome swim team.
"There has been a lot of growth in me the last four years," Gregory said. "That's the biggest thing I got out of it all. Sehome has really allowed me to create good habits and get things done in the pool, as well as out of the pool in academics and relationships. It's really allowed me a chance to mature. It's made a huge impact on me. I can't imagine not having gone through high school swimming. I'd probably be a totally different person."
Reach David Rasbach at firstname.lastname@example.org or 360-715-2286.
2012-13: Patrick Gregory, Sehome
2011-12: Cole Avery, Sehome
2010-11: Austin Fish, Sehome
2009-10: Austin Fish, Sehome
2008-09: Austin Fish, Sehome
2007-08: Colin Flynn, Sehome
2006-07: Colin Flynn, Sehome
2005-06: Colin Flynn, Sehome
Reach DAVID RASBACH at email@example.com or call 715-2271.