Koetje sets tone for Squalicum swimming

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDFebruary 20, 2014 

Squalicum's Neall Koetje, front, tries to catch up to Sehome's Josh Larson in the 100 Freestyle as Sehome beat Squalicum at Arne Hanna Aquatic Center on Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014 in Bellingham. Larson finished first in the race.

ANDY BRONSON — THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

Squalicum's Neall Koetje admits to having a slightly off-putting disposition before his initial race - the 50 freestyle.

The senior team captain likes his hood raised, masking the headphones beneath playing a song of his choosing on repeat before he sheds down and takes his place on the blocks.

"I get angry," Koetje said in a phone interview. "It's hard to explain. Not angry at myself or angry at something in particular. I'm just angry, and I can take it out on the water. I can move my arms faster, and it just feels good."

Koetje lurks around the perimeter of the pool, bottling up the angst he releases in the short yet exciting sprint.

The fog, then, begins to dissipate.

"Right after that - after this big release - this is where all this joy comes from," he said. "Even if I don't do what I hoped, it gets my confidence going. I'm joyous afterward."

At the district swimming meet at Fidalgo Pool on Saturday, Feb. 15, Koetje's times in the 50 freestyle (24 seconds) and 100 freestyle (51.84) earned him wild-card berths to the Class 2A State Swimming Championships held at 2:30 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 21 and Saturday, Feb. 22, at the King County Aquatic Center in Federal Way.

Emotions run deep with Koetje. The anger he tries to harness before a race coincides with the happiness he feels afterward, and as he rose from the waters at Fidalgo Pool, he saw all his work come to fruition. Twice.

After recording a personal best in the 50 freestyle, his expectations weren't high for the 100 freestyle. One strong effort limits the potential for another, he thought.

"I wasn't expecting anything," Koetje said. "We just had a long conversation with Randy Elsner (Squalicum's swimming coach). You can't always do your best in every single event. That's how races work."

Turns out, he could.

His time of 51.84 broke his previous personal best by half a second. His reaction, while muffled by the water, was still heard throughout much of the pool.

"Apparently my mom and dad said I screamed a lot louder than I should have," he said. "It validated the effort I put in this year."

It's an effort few of his competitors can understand.

Koetje isn't a year-round swimmer like most he will face at state. Football prefaces the swimming season, and once that concludes track comes next.

With that said, getting into swimming shape takes dropping 10-15 pounds after football, he said. His power and strength, though, is something that sets him apart.

"A strong guy like that, especially not year round, you look to the shorter events when you get a guy as strong as that with that much determination," Elsner said in a phone interview. "You have those natural athletes in those three-month spans, they are in good land shape and you get them in good swim shape."

The narrative has been the same for the past four years, Koetje said. Being out of shape and short of breath is typical early on, but always around the end of December things begin to take form. His stroke becomes less mechanical in the water. His endurance is felt throughout longer distances. It's like clockwork, he said.

"It's real choppy certain weeks, and then it all starts to come back," he said.

This year has proven no different, although a state medal would provide something novel for him to set off to the sunset with as his swimming career at Squalicum nears an end.

Reach Alex Bigelow at alex.bigelow@bellinghamherald.com or call 360-715-2238. Follow @bhamsports on Twitter for other Whatcom County sports updates.

UP NEXT

CLASS 2A BOYS' SWIMMING CHAMPIONSHIPS

When: 2:30 p.m., Friday-Saturday

Where: The King County Aquatic Center in Federal Way

STATE QUALIFIERS

CLASS 2A

200 MEDLEY RELAY

Sehome (5)

Bellingham (10)

Squalicum (13)

Lynden (18)

200 FREESTYLE School

Martin Sloley Bel. (5)

Colin Hakeman Seh. (12)

Trevor Nims Seh. (18)

200 INDIVIDUAL MEDLEY School

Rowan King Sq. (7)

Kean Rouse Bla. (11)

Logan Dozal Bel. (19)

Patrick Lisosky Seh. (22)

50 FREESTYLE School

Isaiah Grambo Seh. (6)

Josh Larson Seh. (7)

Hans Kogan Sq. (13)

Brisen Pearson Bel. (14)

Trent Olson Seh. (18)

Neall Koetje Sq. (20)

DIVING School

Griffin Korby Sq. (9)

Wilson Dierdorff Sq. (11)

Christian Herzberger Sq. (12)

Chad Cheldelin Bel. (14)

Gabe Kamkoff Sq. (23)

Trip Jackson Bel. (24)

100 BUTTERFLY School

Isaiah Grambo Seh. (5)

Brisen Pearson Bel. (16)

100 FREESTYLE School

Josh Larson Seh. (10)

Neall Koetje Sq. (15)

Trent Olson Seh. (21)

500 FREESTYLE School

Martin Sloley Bel. (4)

Colin Hakeman Seh. (8)

Trevor Nims Seh. (16)

Andi DeKoster Sq. (18)

Grant Williams Lyn. (20)

200 FREESTYLE RELAY

Sehome (3)

Squalicum (4)

Bellingham (10)

Lynden (19)

100 BACKSTROKE School

Michael Johnson Lyn (10)

100 BREASTSTROKE School

Rowan King Sq. (6)

Gabe Travers Bel. (10)

Nathan Kamkoff Sq. (11)

Joseph Adams Seh. (12)

Patrick Lisosky Seh. (14)

Jonathan Hegeberg Sq. (16)

400 FREESTYLE RELAY

Sehome (4)

Squalicum (5)

Bellingham (18)

Bellingham Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service