POULSBO — Both the Kingston Buccaneers and Olympic Trojans knew they had the strength and speed to put together a highly-anticipated Olympic League boys swimming meet showdown between two undefeated teams on Thursday.
But what occurred at the North Kitsap Community Pool was a stellar meeting between two juggernauts, trading blows and standing through it all.
In the final tally it was the Buccaneers who pulled out a 95-75 win that put them closer to defending their league title.
Kingston (5-0 overall, 4-0) took over the lead in league with the victory, but that almost seemed an afterthought as handshakes and high fives were handed out all around.
Olympic (3-2, 3-1) outscored the Bucs 51-43 in second through fifth-place finishes, but Kingston picked up some surprising wins — notably the 200-yard individual medley, 200 freestyle and 500 freestyle.
Rocco Velie, a freshman, pulled out the wins in the 200 IM and 500 free for Kingston. Velie matched Olympic senior Haakon Meyer in the medley, coming from behind in the breaststroke leg and passing Meyer in the freestyle to touch the wall in 2 minutes, 01.48 seconds to Meyer’s 2:03.01.
Kingston coach Mark Van Huis said the intensity of the meet came at a great time for both teams.
“It’s truly incredible to watch these two teams go head-to-head and see kids step up and swim out of their minds, blow it out of the water, and it’s like ‘Where did that come from?’” Van Huis said. “We’re on our fourth meet this month already and they’re swimming out of their minds every single week. They stepped up today.”
Olympic coach Paul Henderson said the meet would come down to how well the two teams fared in the depth chart for all events.
“Those were some fun races,” Henderson said. “What, the 200 free was tight, 100 free was tight, 100 fly, 500 free, oh man, it was fun. We had great swims all the way across the board, not just the state guys but guys that made district. Kody Riley drops four seconds in the 100 fly and makes it.”
It’s not too often races matter deep into an event but that wasn’t the case on Thursday.
“It was fun to watch the race for first then go back and watch the race for third, then watch the race for fifth, you don’t have that in every meet,” Henderson added.
Kingston won the first four events — the 200 medley relay in 1:37.68, the 200 freestyle as Ethan Fox held off Oly’s Dietrich Meyer 1:46.90 to 1:47.35 and Velie then claimed the 200 IM. Tim Gallagher won the 50 free in 21.55 as Rainer Meyer of Olympic was second in 22.68.
The Trojans kept within a 10-point margin, however, and gained ground thanks to back-to-back wins by Haakon Meyer in the 100-yard butterfly — out-touching Kingston’s Aron Markow 54.80 seconds to 55.67 — and Dietrich Meyer in the 100 freestyle. Meyer edged Fox by a narrow margin, 48.15 to 48.28.
Henderson said he thought Oly would have the edge in the 500 free with middle distance state contender Ryan Burchell as the top seed and didn’t see Velie poised to make a run like he did.
Velie stayed even with Burchell for 490 yards and he and Burchell raced all out in the final 10 as the crowd went ecstatic with Velie getting his hand on the wall first in 4:53.16 to 4:53.71.
“My strategy was to mainly stay level with (Ryan),” Velie said, “and at the last 25 just pull through.”
Velie, who doesn’t consider himself a middle distance swimmer, had been working on his finish with his coaches. His time was also a personal best.
“At the very beginning of the season which was the only other time I swam it, I got a 5:00, and now I drop seven seconds all thanks to our winter break training and training in general,” he said.
Van Huis said Velie’s win was huge.
“He took that pressure and he just fed off it,” he said. “(Rocco) saw that we dropped some points in that 100 freestyle that we weren’t planning on and he just took it back.”
Kingston’s Gallagher dominated in his specialty, the 100 backstroke, winning in a time of 52.32 over Rainer Meyer of Olympic in 55.62. Aron Markow claimed the 100 breaststroke in 1:00.63, just missing out on a sub-one minute time, as Ross Burchell of Olympic was second in 1:06.56.
That set up the final 400 free relay in which Kingston won in 3:19.13 to Olympic’s 3:23.31.
Gallagher credited swims like Velie’s double wins and key points from teammates Sean Markow, Evan Yamane, Duncan Platz, Gunnar Jacobson, Charlie Near and company to make up ground in the team scoring.
“That’s what it all came down to,” Gallagher said. “Second through fifth is where the real points were scored. We knew we had the top-end speed to beat them but it really came down to what our other guys could do. We knew what they could do, it was just a matter of whether or not they stepped up and did it and they have all season. We were pretty confident.”
Gallagher said the success the Bucs saw in the pool was a direct correlation for the work they put in during their winter training break at the end of December. The team averaged 22 swimmers for the workouts, which is the most they’ve had, Gallagher said.
“The people that showed up to those practices and the people that continue to show up to practice and work their ass off everyday are going to win us the meets,” he said. “I was really proud of them.”
Kingson’s 12 seniors couldn’t have asked for a better way to go out in front of a packed, and raucous, crowd.
“It’s not the club swimmers that win the district title and league title,” said Platz, “it’s all the rest of the swimmers and that’s what makes up the depth of the team and really brings everything together. Platz, who finished third in the 500 freestyle and fourth in the 200 free, said he’d never heard a crowd that loud.
“You could tell Oly’s team and Kingston’s team, everyone was cheering as loud as they could,” he said. “It just makes the atmosphere so much better. It’s so great to be in a small pool with the two teams just going head to head.”
Even though the meet didn’t go the way the Trojans wanted, the meet was a good indicator of what’s on the horizon next month at the Class 2A state meet.
“To swim against these people and to place and do as well as we did with the times really shows the work that we’ve put in,” Haakon Meyer said. “It tells us how well we could potentially do in state.”
Meyer is expecting another fantastic showdown next month at the King County Aquatic Center for the state championships.
“It’s going to be close at state too,” he said, adding … ‘it’s going to be a good one.”