BELLINGHAM - A swimmer from Squalicum approached his coach, Randy Elsner, and asked simply, "Did we get them?"
A brief sigh prefaced Elsner's answer.
"Yes, we got them," he said.
A roar of excitement came from the Storm's sideline as the final tally was unveiled, showing that the Squalicum boys' swim team defeated Anacortes 94-92 on Thursday, Jan. 16, at Arne Hanna Aquatic Center. The Seahawks (2-1, Northwest Conference 2-1) suffered their first loss of the season while Elsner and the Storm (5-0, NWC 5-0) remain undefeated.
The best part, Elsner said, is that his team has yet to reach its full potential.
"We're still not completely there on varsity, yet," he said. "But today was tremendous. These guys pulled through. I put up the dominoes and let them knock them down."
Neither team won back-to-back races until near the end of the meet when Anacortes won the 500 freestyle and 200 freestyle relay consecutively. The first eight contests - seven races and the diving competition - consisted of the two teams trading wins like heavyweight fighters trade punches.
Squalicum cast the first stone by taking the 200 medley relay with a time of 1 minute, 49.96 seconds. Rowan King, Jonathan Hegeberg, Bobby Iverson and Neall Koetje swam their respective legs of the relay, pulling out the close win.
Anacortes' Danny Schleh proceeded to dominate the 200 freestyle in a time of 1:53.05, besting Squalicum's Andi DeKoster by 11.24 seconds.
The following race between the Storm's King and the Seahawks' Elliott Hofferth in the 200 individual medley proved to be as tight as the final score, with King pulling out the win by 0.17 seconds. Hofferth jumped out to the early lead in the butterfly, but King managed to swim his way back in the backstroke, eventually taking the lead in the breaststroke. He gave himself half of a body length over Hofferth entering the final 50 yards, and he would need every inch of it as the Anacortes product gained on him in the freestyle portion of the race.
King was aware of how close he was the whole time.
"In my mind I'm thinking he's going to catch me, and I have to give it my all," King said. "(There's) kind of a nervousness creeping up, but I know I have to be confident coming down the stretch."
He was exactly that, coming in with a time of 2:06.10, his best time in the event in high school, Elsner said.
"It's just that 'compete factor,'" Elsner said. "I saw Elliott in the butterfly, but I wasn't worried. Rowan is a smart swimmer. He has a really strong backstroke, he's a really strong breaststroker. I knew he would use those two to kind of keep up ... (and) he managed to hold on."
The race that gave Squalicum the cushion it would need to stave off an Anacortes comeback was the 100 freestyle where Koetje, Lucas Roberts and Bobby Bruce took first, second and third, respectively.
The animated Elsner glanced to his team after the 1-2-3 finish and offered a look of shock: "I didn't expect that," he said then.
"I was really surprised by that. Neall, Bobby and Lucas did great times," he said. "That's one of the biggest things with these guys: They're fighters. They're competitors. They see a race and they want to win it."
King would grab a convincing win in the backstroke with a time of 1:00.96 to cap his three-win day, and Anacortes took the final two events with wins in the 100 breaststroke and 400 freestyle relay. Squalicum's Christian Herzberger won the diving competition with a score of 150.40.
The close, tight battle between the Storm and Seahawks was in keeping with the overall tone of the boys' swimming season. Earlier this season, Squalicum edged Bellingham 94-92, and just last Thursday, Jan. 9, Sehome pulled out another slight win over the Red Raiders, 93-92.
King said he expected a "nail-biter" against Anacortes, and the same will probably go for Squalicum's looming matchup with the also-undefeated Mariners on Tuesday, Jan. 28.
Reach Alex Bigelow at email@example.com or call 360-715-2238. Follow @bhamsports on Twitter for other Whatcom County sports updates.
SQUALICUM 94, ANACORTES 92
200 medley relay: Squalicum (Rowan King, Jonathan Hegeberg, Bobby Iverson, Neall Koetje) 1:49.96; 200 freestyle: Danny Schleh (Ana) 1:53.05; 200 individual medley: Rowan King (Sq.) 2:06-10; 50 freestyle: Eric Olsen (Ana) 23:36; Diving: Christian Herzberger (Sq) 150.40; 100 butterfly: Elliott Hofferth (Ana) 55.56; 100 freestyle: Neall Koetje (Sq) 53.58; 500 freestyle: Danny Schleh (Ana) 5:10.13; 200 freestyle relay: Anacortes (Eric Olsen, Danny Schleh, Elliott Hofferth, Blake Norton) 1:35.87; 100 backstroke: Rowan King (Sq) 1:00.96; 100 breaststroke: Eric Olsen (Ana) 1:07.65; 400 freestyle relay: Anacortes (Danny Schleh, Elliott Hofferth, Mikey Laws, Jack Harrigan ) 3:39.26.