Sehome's Isaiah Grambo is an unassuming package of talent.
The muscular junior swimmer for the Mariners calmly laid waste to much of his opposition during duel meets in Northwest Conference matchups.
Grambo has no pre-race routine like many of his counterparts - no yelling or extra dramatics. He makes his way to the blocks and readies himself as if every race were the same, from state to districts to the regular season.
"I'm not real competitive," Grambo said in a phone interview. "I'm not so much focused on myself than with the team. ... I'm pretty laid back, I guess. When I get in the water, I go for it and I want to do my best, and now and again I will try to get really hyped up."
Even at the Class 2A State Boys' Swimming Championships, after placing fourth in the 100 butterfly, Grambo accepted his award without the flair of the three next to him raising their hands and gesturing to those they knew in the crowd. Upon receiving his medal, he quietly made his way off the podium and to his teammates.
With that performance, as well as a seventh-place finish in the 50 freestyle, Grambo has been chosen as All-Whatcom County Boys' Swimmer of the Year, helping lead Sehome to a NWC crown and a 6-0 record, a third-place finish at districts and a seventh-place finish at the state championships.
After the state meet concluded, Sehome's coach Don Helling professed that Grambo was the best swimmer in Whatcom County. Squalicum's coach Randy Elsner, who guided the Storm to a seventh-place finish at state and was chosen as All-Whatcom County Coach of the Year, agreed, noting the junior's ferocity in the pool.
But despite all Grambo had accomplished this season, including not losing a single individual race during NWC meets, a disqualification in the 400 freestyle relay final at state left a sour taste in his mouth.
Grambo was the anchoring leg for the Mariners' relay team. On the turn going into the final 25 yards he, as ruled by the judge, missed the wall and was DQ'd.
"I didn't feel frustrated. I felt more disappointed. It was out of my control," Grambo said. "I knew we had done well, but at the same time I was very disappointed. ... The whole team tried to not let it affect us."
Grambo and Sehome were afforded something rarely seen in such an instance, which is a second chance, albeit both would have to wait until next year to make good on that opportunity. There isn't a single senior on the Mariners' squad, allowing all of those who competed a chance to return and make good, Grambo included.
Next year will also see a more seasoned, mature Grambo as he becomes more comfortable with his role on the team.
After several integral members of Sehome's 2012-13 team graduated, Grambo and fellow junior Josh Larson went from soft-spoken sophomores to team captains of a program that had controlled the NWC for the past decade. In his own way, Grambo moved into the role the only way he knew how: to continue to be himself.
Helling didn't want anything else from him.
"I thought Isaiah rose to the challenge," Helling said. "He's not a chatter box, not someone who necessarily has to say a lot to get people pumped up. He's just a quiet, solid, hard worker who as much as anything leads through his example."
Grambo allowed Larson to be the outspoken one of the two. When needed to, he said he preferred to reach his teammates in a one-on-one setting, offering his advice and his experiences. He didn't want to change who he was, though, weighing the balance of having to be a leading voice but remaining true to his personality.
"Honestly, the only thing I felt I needed to do was do good for my team," Grambo said.
His astute attention to detail allowed him to do just that, focusing in particular on the 100 butterfly.
Grambo, a club and year-round swimmer, noticed something at districts while competing against the eventual runner-up at state, Archbishop Murphy's Austin Barnard.
Barnard bested Grambo by .81 seconds at districts, to which the Sehome product realized Barnard was distancing himself in his kicks underwater.
Grambo took that into his training, dropping his time from 54.48 seconds at districts to 53.91 in state prelims and 53.28 in the finals.
"You can tell he loves to win," Helling said. "He doesn't seem very competitive outside the pool, but there isn't anyone in the pool more competitive when he dives in to race."
And next year, he has his eyes set on leading the Mariners back to within grasp of the 2A team crown, and possibly past Barnard in the process.
Reach Alex Bigelow at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 360-715-2238. Follow @bhamsports on Twitter for other Whatcom County sports updates.