Very few universal truths exist in this world.
One of them, though, can be counted on time and again: the matchup between Squalicum and Sehome likely deciding the Northwest Conference regular season girls’ swimming champion.
It's been five years since a team not named Sehome or Squalicum claimed the league title, Anacortes' undefeated season in 2008 serving as the precursor to a conference reign by the two Bellingham schools.
Entering the two powers’ dual-meet at the Arne Hanna Aquatic Center on Tuesday, Oct. 21, the Storm owned three of the past five titles, including last year's undefeated season.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Bellingham Herald
The Mariners all but ensured there won't be a repeat of that, defeating Squalicum 103-80, having just one more hurdle between them and a conference crown when Sehome hosts Anacortes on Thursday.
"I was really nervous," Sehome senior Gwen Roley said of facing the Storm. "Don (Helling) has been telling us all season that this was going to be the closest one, and the most important one, and it definitely hyped me up. I woke up this morning, ‘Oh, God, it’s today.’”
There’s two schools of thought Helling emphasized to his girls — on one hand, this is the greatest test his team will face during the regular season. The second — there are far greater goals ahead.
“This is still low on the totem pole compared to our championships just around the corner,” he said. “We don’t want to get too focused on this meet and lose track of what we've really been training for, and that’s districts and state championships.”
His team indulged in just a moment of joy after defeating Squalicum, but the Storm had a helping hand in its own demise.
Squalicum’s 200 medley relay team of Abby VonFeldt, Yani Le, Amanda Tapparo and Janae Gallant looked to have cast the first stone, winning the opening event, but a false start disqualified the performance and gave Sehome’s Alia Malella, Hannah Holmgren, McKenna Sakamoto and Ava Baumgarten the win.
“That took the wind out of our sails, no doubt,” Squalicum coach Steve Gibb said.
Roley’s dominant performance in the 200 freestyle, the same event she won at the 2A state championships a year ago, didn't help, as her time of 2 minutes, 5.60 seconds was well beyond the field.
Ellie Poehlman coming in second behind Roley only emphasized the depth the Mariners were working with, too.
Poehlman would again put forth a strong effort in a non-victory, placing second in the 500 freestyle behind teammate Alia Malella.
Malella, the defending 2A state champion in the 500 freestyle, cruised past the field with a time of 5:41.45, Poehlman‘s 5:58.23 coming in a tight battle with Squalicum’s Kristina DeKoster, who finished just .52 seconds behind her for third.
“The 20 points, if you worked it into number of yards that those 20 points made a difference in, there were a number of races that we won by just inches,” Helling said. “Eva (Baumgarten) and Ellie, they were both behind in the 500 free. To move up to second and fourth, those were gutsy swims and season-best times for both of them.”
Malella also won the 100 backstroke, besting VonFeldt with a time of 1:03.60.
The Storm were led by Le and junior transfer-in Serena Allendorfer.
Allendorfer’s raw speed was on display as she claimed the 50 and 100 freestyle swims convincingly, also besting Roley in a head-to-head in the final leg of the 400 freestyle relay.
“She showed great desire to help her team in those relays,” Gibb said of Allendorfer. “For her, it’s just a stepping stone.”
Le also won multiple events with ease, claiming the 200 individual medley and 100 backstroke.
Roley’s other individual win came in the 100 butterfly, holding off Tapparo’s strong swim for second.
“It was nice having closer races today,” Roley said. “I could tell it hyped everyone else up, too. Most of our other wins have been at least by 50 points.”
Only Anacortes stands in Sehome’s way for a league title.
Sehome 103, Squalicum 80
200 medley relay: Sehome (Alia Malella, Hannah Holmgren, McKenna Sakamoto, Ava Baumgarten) 2:02.51; 200 freestyle: Gwen Roley (Sehome) 2:05.60; 200 individual medley: Yani Le (Squalicum) 2:20.93; 50 freestyle: Serena Allendorfer (Squalicum) 26:08; Diving: Amber Caron (Squalicum) 186.00; 200 freestyle relay: Sehome (Holmgren, Ellie Poehlman, Sophie Grambo, Roley) 1:50.59; 100 butterfly: Roley (Sehome) 1:06.07; 100 freestyle: Allendorfer (Squalicum) 26.99; 500 freestyle: Malella (Sehome) 5:41.45; 100 backstroke: Malella (Sehome) 1:03.60; 100 breaststroke: Le (Squalicum) 1:09.94; 400 freestyle relay: Squalicum (Kristina DeKoster, Abby VonFeldt, Le, Allendorfer) 3:56.56.