Squalicum boys’ swimmer Rowan King has two distinct identities.
When King is hanging out with the rest of the Storm, he’s jovial, a goofball, bordering on the edge of class clown, with a big smile that comes out when he’s not on the receiving end of a joke, coach Randy Elsner said in a phone interview.
But moments later when the sophomore steps onto the blocks, he’s fierce, competitive. There’s a drive in his eyes.
And that’s why King has quickly made a name for himself as one of the best swimmers in Whatcom County.
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“Rowan’s a competitor. ... He wants to win,” Elsner said. “More than anything it’s his focus and drive that’s made him successful.”
That competitiveness showed in a dual meet with Lynden on Jan. 13.
In the final event of the afternoon — the 400 freestyle relay — King, the anchor of the Storm’s team, entered the pool seven seconds behind Lynden.
He proceeded to swim a 50.5-second leg to come from behind and win the event, which ended up securing the team an 86-83 victory in the meet.
“I’m just a really competitive person. I just have it in my nature that I want to win,” King said in a phone interview. “It makes me mad when I lose especially to people I know. That’s always been a drive for me. I want to perform really well especially in big meets.”
And the biggest meet of the season, the Class 2A State Championships, has arrived for King, who will compete on Squalicum’s relay teams as well as the 200 IM and 100 breaststroke. The preliminaries start on Friday, Feb. 20, at King County Aquatic Center in Federal Way.
In the breaststroke, King is looking for a title. He is seeded second behind Steilacoom’s James Scott entering the meet. In the 200 IM, he ranks third. The two people above him are the same two that finished higher than him at districts.
“It’s always nice when you know the competition ahead of you,” Elsner said. “The goal is to stay in the middle of the pool in prelims and be in the top three going into finals.”
While King has been a major part of the Storm this season, he isn’t a stranger to taking on a big load.
As a freshman, King made quite the impact on a deep Squalicum team packed with seniors.
He finished fourth and eighth in his two individual events — the 100 breaststroke and 200 individual medley — at last year’s Class 2A State Championships, while also helping his team to a third-place finish in the 200 freestyle relay and fourth in the 400 freestyle relay.
“Our team was like 50 percent seniors,” King said. “I was the little guy.”
This year, King is no longer the young gun but the savvy vet.
With a much younger team, King not only had to mature as a leader, he had to expand his focus from his two individual events in order to help the Storm.
He ended up picking up state times in every event but the 200 and 500 freestyle, both of which he swam only once in a last attempt to get qualifying times in all eight events.
“I think it’s been really nice to compete in more than two events. That can be tiring after awhile,” King said. “It was really nice to branch out.”
But once the postseason came around, it was time to focus on his best events and now he enters state with experience and a year’s worth of growth, both mentally and physically — Elsner no longer has to look down to King and might even have to look a little up.
And as is typical with King’s personality, he wants to win.
It was last year at state, that he realized he could compete with the best.
“I saw that I can pit myself against them and say ‘Yeah, I’m close,” King said, “I can be at that point when I get to their age.’”
It appears he’s already there.