ANACORTES - One final obstacle stood between the Sehome girls' swim team and the Class 2A Northwest District title.
It wasn't Squalicum High School, the team that had handed the Mariners their only defeat of the season, or any of the other four teams in the finale of the 400 freestyle relay. Sehome had a 20-point lead at that time, and the only thing that could prevent them from winning the district title was a disqualification. The girls could be heard chattering before the race about that well-know fact.
"We knew after the 100 (breastroke), all we needed to do was not false start and we would win," Sehome junior Gwen Roley said.
Roley swam the final 100 yards, reminding herself before leaving the platform to not do anything that could prevent Sehome from winning.
"It was just like, 'I can't false start, I can't do a bad finish,'" Roley said. "I just needed to have a solid race. ... When I finished, it was just perfect, pretty much."
Roley and the Sehome girls' swim team won the Class 2A Northwest District title over Squalicum squad by the score of 268.5 to 256.5. Lake Washington finished in third with a score of 207.5, and Bellingham was fourth with 148.
The top three finishers in each even earned trips to the Class 2A State Championships, which will begin at 2:30 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 15, at the King County Aquatic Center with preliminary races. The finals will be held Saturday, Nov. 16, at the same location.
Sehome coach Don Helling prefaced the finals of the district meet by acknowledging the reality that it would come down to either his Mariners squad or Squalicum. The Storm defeated Sehome 94-92 on Oct. 22, and the two teams traded the lead throughout much of the meet.
Inevitably, though, Sehome just had too many swimmers tallying good results.
"They dug deep, and I am just really proud of how they did across the board," Helling said. "I would really attribute it to our depth. I think the depth of our team this year really pulled us through."
Roley was a fundamental piece to Sehome's grabbing the team title. She earned automatic state berths in the 200 freestyle and 100 backstroke individual events, while also helping the Mariners' 200 freestyle and 400 freestyle relay teams advance to the state meet.
"As our strongest swimmer, (Roley) has provided a lot of leadership for us," Helling said.
Sehome may have won the meet, but individually, Squalicum freshman Sydney Wong stole the day.
Wong won two individual events - the 100 and 200 freestyle swims - and was a part of the Storm's winning 200 and 400 freestyle relay teams.
The soft-spoken freshman was acknowledged as swimmer of the meet, but her demeanor upon receiving the honor was telling: She turned to her teammates, shared a few high-fives and made her way to the starting blocks to get ready for the final race of the day - the 400 freestyle relay she anchored to a win.
Her finest moment came much earlier, though, when she took the water in the 200 freestyle against Roley, the top qualifier from preliminaries, and Bellingham's Maddie Gillman, the second-fastest in preliminaries.
Wong led from the first turn, with Roley and Gillman trailing by less than half a body length. Roley fell back, as did Gillman, but Roley began to gain ground on the Storm freshman in the final 25 yards. The distance proved too much for the Sehome junior to make up, though, and Wong touched the wall .17 seconds faster than Roley.
"I love a good race, and if it wasn't for her, I wouldn't have gotten that time," said Wong of registering a time of 1 minute, 59.38 seconds in the 200 freestyle. "I just really like racing (Gillman and Roley)."
Helling saw that particular race as the one that set the temperament for the rest of the meet.
"That just shows how close this year was," Helling said, "and how competetive it was."
Wong's win in the 100 freestyle was far less climactic, as she came in more than two seconds faster than second-place finisher Lauren LeMaster of Lake Washington.
Both Roley and Wong cited the higher level of intensity, and the growing number of talented swimmers, as reasons they saw improvements in their times at the district meet. While Roley and Wong race often during training, it's a bit different when they enter the pool with a spot to the state meet on the line.
"Being at high-pressure, meets like this brings back some of the pressure you need for it," Roley said. "Definitely for me, I race so much better under pressure."
Gillman, who finished fourth in the 200 freestyle, redeemed herself in the 500 freestyle with a dominating performance that saw her win by 30.19 seconds. Sehome's Ellie Poehlman and Bellingham's Anna McNabb finished in second and third, respectively, securing their spot into the state meet in the 500 freestyle.
Squalicum's Josephine Hegeberg earned wins in the 200 individual medley and 100 breaststroke while also swimming a leg in the Storm's winning 400 freestyle and 200 medley relay teams. Hegeberg outlasted Sehome's Hannah Holmgren in a tight 100 breaststroke by 1.98 seconds.
Holmgren also earned a state berth into the 100 freestyle after finishing in third place.
Maddie Dohm of Squalicum earned an automatic state berth with a second-place finish in the 50 freestyle. She'll also be racing in the state-bound 200 freestyle relay and 200 medley relay teams
Reach Alex Bigelow at email@example.com or 360-715-2238. Follow on Twitter @bhamsports for other Whatcom County sports news.
AREA STATE BERTHS
200 FREESYLE SCHOOL TIME (PL.)
Sydney Wong Squalicum 1:59.38 (1)
Gwen Roley Sehome 1:59.55 (2)
200 INDIVIDUAL MEDLEY SCHOOL TIME (PL.)
Josephine Hegeberg Squalicum 2:19.19 (1)
50 FREESTYLE SCHOOL TIME (PL.)
Maddie Dohm Squalicum 27.05 (T-2)
100 FREESTYLE SCHOOL TIME (PL.)
Sydney Wong Squalicum 54.30 (1)
Hannah Holmgren Sehome 59.14 (3)
500 FREESTYLE SCHOOL TIME (PL.)
Maddie Gillman Bellingham 5:29.37 (1)
Ellie Poehlman Sehome 5:59.56 (2)
Anna McNabb Bellingham 6:00.89 (3)
100 BACKSTROKE SCHOOL TIME (PL.)
Gwen Roley Sehome 1:01.94 (2)
100 BREASTSTROKE SCHOOL TIME (PL.)
Josephine Hegeberg Squalicum 1:10.60 (1)
Hannah Holmgren Sehome 1:12.58 (2)
DIVING SCHOOL PTS (PL.)
Ariel McGavock Bellingham 296.20 (2)
200 MEDLEY RELAY SWIMMERS TIME (Pl.)
Squalicum Abby VonFeldt 1:59.80 (2)
Sehome Megan Mundell 2:00.24 (3)
200 FREESTYLE RELAY SWIMMERS TIME (Pl.)
Squalicum Janae Gallant 1:47.26 (1)
Sehome Gwen Roley 1:48.03 (3)
400 FREESTYLE RELAY SWIMMERS TIME (Pl.)
Squalicum Abby VonFeldt 3:52.49 (1)
Sehome Shirley Lam 3:56.97 (3)