FEDERAL WAY — In the battle of the islands, it was Bainbridge that came out on top at the Class 3A state swimming and diving championships.
Bainbridge rallied in the second-to-last event to take a 17-point lead over Mercer Island, successfully defending its state title 397 points to 374 Saturday at the King County Aquatics Center. It’s the first time a Kitsap county swim team has won back-to-back titles.
— Annette Griffus (@AnnetteWSSports) February 17, 2018
The Spartans gambled, putting all their marbles into the 100-yard breaststroke and came out with a big lead.
Bainbridge’s Kevin Houseman and his breaststroke teammates, Aidan Wagner, Carter Hall and Max Eyrich knew the championship could hinge on their one event.
“It was great knowing that we had that event at the end too, just in case it was close which it was,” Houseman said.
The foursome went all out during Friday’s preliminaries and qualified for Saturday’s A finals. They also knew that Mercer Island, the only team that could take the championship away from them, didn’t put a swimmer into the event.
The strategy of loading up one event worked to perfection for the Spartans.
Houseman won the event in 55.18 seconds as Wagner, Eyrich and Hall went 5-6-7 to pull the Spartans in front of Mercer with one event to go, the 400 free relay.
Bainbridge won the relay too, breaking their own state record from last season, in 3:05.29.
Winning back-to-back state titles nearly left Kaycee Taylor speechless.
Taylor missed time last season due to health issues and is also the school’s athletic director. He relies heavily on assistant coaches Kristin Gellert and Alex Nowjack and credits them with preparing the team for another state-title run.
“These guys have been fantastic, knowing exactly what the swimmers need, being there when I’m not around for other things,” Taylor said. “Without them, this thing wouldn’t have happened.”
The defining moments were the breaststroke and diving, he said.
“The 100 breast was stacked with four of our guys in it and no one from Mercer in there at all. That’s what we were kind of hingeing things on but expecting things to turn around for us at that point,” Taylor said.
— Annette Griffus (@AnnetteWSSports) February 18, 2018
Houseman repeated as backstroke champion improving his time by .04 seconds but wasn’t necessary thrilled with his time. His championship, yes.
“I’ve got a lot of other meets I can go fast in,” he said. “It’s fun knowing who you’re racing and it’s always a good experience.”
Bainbridge sophomore Kiernan Liberman pulled out a significant victory in the one-meter diving. And to top it off, Brian Taylor moved up to finish fourth, giving the Spartans 35 points.
Liberman, who finished eighth last season, won with a score of 406.30 while teammate Brian Taylor was fourth. Liberman became the first Bainbridge diver to win a state championship since Olaf Olson won back-to-back titles in 2005-06.
Liberman couldn’t wipe the smile off his face as he stood on the top of the podium and proudly accepted his first-place medal.
“My second dive I nailed and from there I was like ‘I can do this,’” he said. “Then the third dive was like, ‘Yup, I got it.’”
Liberman strategically placed his final three dives at the end of his schedule to give him his best chance. It was the same dive order he had at the SeaKing District meet.
“I was really confident with my last dives because my second dive, my back twister, gives me a lot of points,” Liberman said, “and it’s a nice dive to have at the end as a money dive.”
In the 400 free relay, Bainbridge trailed Mercer after the first two legs before Garrett Waite dove in and quickly made up ground to give the Spartans a commanding lead. That advantage grew when Wenker hit the water in the anchor leg as the team had splits of 45 to 47 seconds.
“That back end, those last two guys that got set up perfectly (by Ingalls and Witty) and to pull ahead like that — phenomenal,” Taylor said.
“It was definitely a game-changer,” Houseman added of Waite’s swim. “We knew, leaving Garrett and Jude at the end they always do their best. They’re driven. If they’re not in first, then they’re going to try and get to that place. And if they are in first they’re going to do their best to keep it.”
From top to bottom the Spartans did what was needed to put swimmers in the right spots to gain points.
Bainbridge started well, winning two of the first three events as the 200 medley relay of Waite, Houseman, Makai Ingalls, and Wagner, finished in an Automatic All-American time of 1:32.76, holding off Mercer in 1:36.80.
Jude Wenker won the 100 freestyle in 45.97 beating Bellevue’s Andrew Boden in 46.77 and finished second in the 200 freestyle in 1:41.37.
Wenker was happy with both his finishes, especially in the 200 free as Eastside Catholic’s Jose Jacome was the clear favorite. He won in 1:39.97.
“I kind of knew that (Jacome) was going to be first,” he said. “I’m really happy with my swims.”
Mercer then started to come on as they had three swimmers in the 200 free.
Waite won the 200 individual medley in an Automatic All-American time of 1:49.75 while teammates Andrew Witty finished third and Houseman fourth.
Makai Ingalls placed third in the 50 free — Mercer’s Evan Hill was fourth — and Wagner was eighth as the two teams battled back and forth for the lead.
In the 100 fly, Ingalls knew he was stroke for stroke with Mercer’s James Richardson. Richardson out-touched Ingalls at the wall in 49.84 to 49.86 — just two one-hundredths of a second — good enough for All-American consideration.
Ingalls struggled some as he was battling the remnants of strep from earlier this week. He knew it would be a close race with Richardson and wanted to pull out the win for his teammates.
“Especially in the 100 fly, every time you breathe it’s like a reminder that they’re right there,” he said. “It’s motivating to go faster but it’s also kind of tough.”
Wenker followed Ingalls’ second-place in the fly with the win in the 100 free but the Spartans trailed by 10 points to Mercer after the event. Waite added a third-place finish in the 500 free and Sam Chapman was eighth.
Mercer just edged Bainbridge in the 200 free relay, 1:26.35 to 1:26.49. Witty moved up three spots from eighth to finish fifth in the 100 backstroke as Richardson of Mercer won the event.
That set up the 100 breast comeback for Bainbridge.
Waite said last year the Spartans felt like underdogs. This year they knew they were the team to beat.
“Coming into the state meet, it felt like we had a big task ahead of us,” he said. “We knew that it wasn’t going to be easy. Mercer Island brought in some great freshmen that we knew we had to worry about. In some ways, we still were the underdogs, but I would say it was still very difficult (to win).”
Waite and the rest of the Spartans were more than ready to start their post-state party after the trophy celebration.
“I’m just really happy right now as is the whole team,” Waite said. “We put in some great swims this weekend. We knew what we had to do and we came here and we did it. I’m so pleased with the team.”