"Coachable" is one of the words Sehome girls' swimming coach Don Helling repeated in describing Hannah Holmgren. And being coachable can determine just how good a swimmer is.
A bad start or just relaxing for a single stroke can be the difference between first and last in swimming. Coachable swimmers can listen to their coach and make necessary adjustments to stay with the pack.
"You want someone who can interpret what the coach says and make their body do something different," Helling said in a phone interview. "(Holmgren) is able to do that. She listens and makes changes immediately."
"Gutsy" is another word that Helling used. He said Holmgren can go from a modest and relatively quiet high school girl, to a gutsy and tough competitor in the pool.
That competitive fire comes in handy on the relays, as Holmgren has helped the Sehome 200 medley and 200 freestyle teams to qualify for the 2A Girls' State Swim and Dive meet. Holmgren swims the anchor leg on the 200 freestyle team, a position which Helling said is perfect for her.
"Hannah is so tough. When she's in a close finish I know I can count on her to give it all she has," he said.
Holmgren is also a returning competitor at the state swim meet. Last season she placed sixth in the 100 butterfly with a time of 1 minute, 10.82 seconds. This year, she wants to best that mark.
"I really want to break 1:10 in the 100 breaststroke," she said in a phone interview. "If I can go out and have my best time, I'll get it."
Holmgren is also ranked 11th in the 100 freestyle. Earlier this season the Mariners had a bad bout of illness, which threw a hiccup in their training, Helling said.
"It's difficult in a training-intensive sport to stop training when you're ill," he added. "Hannah fought right through it though."
As a result of her commitment and toughness, Helling has seen her steadily improve this season. Her time of 1:12.46 has put her right on the cusp of meeting her goal and breaking 1:10.00 in the 100 breaststroke.
"Her stroke has improved and strengthened as the season has gone along," he said. "She's getting better and better on starts, which is key on shorter events."
Alongside Holmgren, Sehome has a wealth of other strong swimmers. The depth and tight-knit group of swimmers has made this team one of Helling's favorites to coach, he said.
"Hannah is one of a great group of kids this year, no prima donnas, no drama or anything," Helling said. "We have some swimmers who are big meet swimmers. They could turn things around and move up (in their races)."
As a team, Sehome hopes to perform well enough to get a trophy. The top four teams will receive trophies after the Saturday, Nov. 16, final heats. Helling knows what his team has to do to get to the top four, and has them focused on their goal.
"We take Friday (the preliminary heats) very seriously," he said. "We know as a team that (qualifying for finals on Saturday) is the only way we move up and get into the top four."
STATE GIRLS' SWIMMING
CLASS 2A STATE CHAMPIONSHIPS
Preliminaries: 2:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 15
Finals: 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 16
Site: King County Aquatic Center, Federal Way