Bremerton’s Rain Bitah and Valencia Tang each earn double wins while Kingston’s Mimi Hays adds to district-qualifying times
POULSBO — Each time Bremerton senior Rain Bitah puts on her swimsuit and her blue and gold swim cap with the letter ‘B’ she knows it’s for a bigger purpose.
Bitah swims club for the Bremerton YMCA under coaches Marilyn Grindrod and Amy Meyer but enjoys high school swimming for the friendships she makes and leadership she can provide to the young Knights.
“I’ve really just taken to the mindset that everybody can improve,” Bitah said. “There’s always time to improve on their swim skills from last year to this year and I can help them with that. I really enjoy helping these girls and it’s a big jump from club to high school.”
Bitah did her part for the Knights Thursday when she won the 200-yard freestyle and the 100 backstroke, both in district-qualifying times, during an Olympic League girls meet against the Kingston Buccaneers. Teammate Valencia Tang also earned two wins but it was Kingston who won the meet at the North Kitsap Community Pool, 113-50.
Bitah’s time of 2 minutes, 18.77 seconds in the 200 free put her closer to making the 2A state meet in November.
“I thought it was super good,” Bitah said of her race. “I felt really good on that one. There’s always room for improvement too. I’d rather be way faster than that, but it’s the third meet of the year so we’re really trying to pick it up this year.”
She finished the backstroke in 1:10.12 with a state-time of 1:03.9 within reach. Bitah and Tang are two returning state qualifiers. They swam in the 200 medley relay and are working to qualify in individual events as well as returning a relay to the King County Aquatic Center in Federal Way.
Bitah is also eyeing the school record in the backstroke, held by 2004 Olympian Dana Kirk in 1:01.00 in 2001.
“I really want to do that,” she said, “and bring the 200 relay to state this year. I just love the feel of being at a big competition where you know there’s top state swimmers there and really gets the adrenaline going, you know?”
Bremerton coach Chriss Kuykendall appreciates how both Bitah and Tang are willing to use peer-to-peer teaching with their teammates who are new to the sport of swimming.
“They’re also exhorting the girls,” Kuykendall said, and both are well taught, are open to suggestions on how ti improve and are becoming more efficient swimmers.
Tang, a junior, won the 50 freestyle in 27.77, good enough to qualify for district, and the 500 free in 6:11.80, also a district time.
Kingston’s Mimi Hays won two individual events and helped the Bucs’ 200 medley relay and 200 free relay to wins as well. Hays has qualified for districts in the 500 free, butterfly, backstroke and the 200 individual medley. Buccaneer Lauren Fox picked up the win in the 100 butterfly in 1:17.77 and Cheyenne Fairless won the 100 free in 1:12.33 for Kingston. Bremerton won the 400 free relay in 5:01.11.
Kingston has five seniors returning to the team, but they are not year-round swimmers. Bucs coach Pam Manix said the seniors chose to define the team as one with exuberance and passion for each other.
“They work hard at that,” Manix said. “The girls do pasta feeds every week. They really work on their chemistry and it’s been a long time since we’ve had that.”
Any state qualifying times are going to come later in the season as the Buccaneers get comfortable with being uncomfortable, and learning that pain goes along with swimming, Manix said.
“We have a lot of girls that didn’t really do sports before,” Manix said, adding right now, the Buccaneers are learning what it means to be athletes.