PREP BOYS' SWIMMING PREVIEW: Storm's Koetje hoping to make last big splash


Swimming may not be Squalicum's Neall Koetje's only sport, but it certainly is one of his best.

Koetje, a senior who also plays football and runs track, is one of the top sprint swimmers in the state and is ready to bring it all to the table for his final year.

After experiencing his senior season in football, Koetje knows what it takes to have a great last season.

"(The feeling) hits near the end of the season," Koetje said in a phone interview. "You look back and you think 'What could I have done better?' I just know I need to try harder at the beginning, get in good shape really quick and hold nothing back."

But swimming wasn't always one of Koetje's favorite sports. It wasn't even one of his sports when he entered high school.

He used to love wrestling, but one day he was doing clap-pushups and slipped and fell on his face and broke some teeth. He was restricted from doing contact sports for a few weeks after the accident, and it overlapped with the wrestling season.

His dad, who had swam in high school, told Koetje to try out the pool.

He's fallen in love with it ever since, and it now rivals football for his favorite sport.

"It's really grown on me," Koetje said. "I used to watch the Olympics and thought, 'I could never be that level or anywhere close to them.' I realize they're still far off, but if I work hard, I can go far."

As a competitive person, the individuality of the sport is what appeals to Koetje the most.

"It's the first individual sport I've ever done," Koetje said. "You look at people next to you and see if they are at par, below or above you. And you can beat any of them or they can beat you. You can overcome odds. I like that feeling."

Despite that, Squalicum coach Randy Elsner said there aren't many better teammates than Koetje.

"He is team first," Elsner said in a phone interview. "It's never about him, it's about the team. He's the kind of guy you want around."

Last year, Koetje finished 23rd at the Class 2A State Championships in the 50 freestyle last year and 18th in the 100 freestyle.

His raw physical abilities are what make Koetje such a great sprinter, Elsner said, and with another year of weightlifting for football under his belt, he should be even stronger this year.

"He's got natural strength," Elsner said. "He's able to maintain that through his 100, through his strokes. He just needs to work on the little things like everyone else."

This year, Koetje knows he can't just rely on his physical gifts to improve.

He is working on another muscle - his brain.

"I've been doing a lot more mental work," Koetje said. "When I started swimming, it wasn't a primary sport. Now that I'm a senior, I value my time, it goes by quick. I'm doing the smaller stuff."

Elsner knows Koetje's desire to be one of the best and is glad to have someone with so much passion.

"He is a very hard worker," Elsner said. "He is always there, always on time, always putting in 100 percent. He is always asking to get better, always striving to get better. He has people on the team that he can compete with daily to be what he wants."

It helps that Elsner is the first returning coach Koetje has had for swimming. Workouts and tactics change from coach to coach, and Koetje said he now has a feeling of what to expect.

Koetje isn't just counted on in the pool, though. He is also one of the Storm's co-captains and is expected to lead Squalicum to success. In addition to working on typical captain's duties, such as organizing team dinners and t-shirts, Koetje also has to be a leader in the pool, on the deck and in school.

"He is a strong presence," Elsner said. "He's not the always loud, always-speaking person, but a strong, silent type. When he walks into a room, you can feel the strength."

Koetje talks to swimmers individually and addresses the team as a group. If Elsner has something to say to the team, Koetje can say it in a way the coaches can't.

"He takes the reins to get the message to the team in a way they can understand it," Elsner said.

It's a responsibility Koetje said he doesn't take lightly. He said he doesn't just want to motivate his current teammates - he wants to expand the sport at his school.

"It's a smaller sport," Koetje said. "It's always played a secondary role. I want to bring it into the forefront with basketball."

Koetje promotes it at school and finds out what freshmen have to say about the sport.

"It's good to get a feeling for what they like about the sport," Koetje said. "(Elsner) has given the senior leaders a lot of say. It's helpful to get their perspective and decide how we can make the sport better."

With Koetje at the helm, the Storm will at least catch the eye of other teams.

Reach Joshua Hart at at 360-715-2271.

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