The Spartans are narrowing in on strong second half season as they near the postseason

BAINBRIDGE ISLAND — Bainbridge’s boys swim team is well aware all eyes are on them this season. 

That comes with the territory when you’ve won the last three state 3A championships and are, realistically, favored for a fourth. Mercer Island holds the 3A state record of six team titles in a row from 2006-11. 

Last week the Spartans had their first real test in facing Kingco opponent Newport. Newport had the size (just like Bainbridge) and the speed (just like Bainbridge) to hand the Spartans a rare dual meet loss.

“It’s a huge difference,” Bainbridge coach Kaycee Taylor said of facing a team similar to the Spartans. “Also they have swimmers in the key positions. For years in the 100 breaststroke we’re going to go 1-2-3 and we’re going to get four guys into state. To have that in the past, we need to face that in the new reality too. This is a good tuneup meet for us.” 

Tyler Stewart of Bainbridge swims in the 100-yard breaststroke during a dual meet against Newport, Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020, at Bainbridge Aquatic Center.
(Annette Griffus/West Sound SportsPlus)

Of course winning a fourth state title is on Bainbridge’s minds. It’s the lure that brought many athletes to the pool. Bainbridge is made up of not just swimmers, but water polo athletes and rowers. 

“What it’s come down to for us, we’re all working just as hard,” said senior Ben Cohen, whose main sport is rowing, said it can be easy with such a large team to not have closeness but that’s not the case. 

“We have a really great team bond this year and everyone’s working together,” he said, “and there’s that understanding that we’re ready to work hard and we like that competition. We just have fun everyday.”

Bainbridge has a long way to go to beat the all-time state winning streak — that distinction belongs to 4A Wilson High of Tacoma which won 21 in a row from 1960-1983.

The distinction for Bainbridge is its senior class. All they’ve done is win.

“Either way it would be a first,” Taylor said. “It would be a first to not be a state champ or it would be a first to be a four-year state champ.”

Yet in the grand scheme of a swimming season, wins and losses aren’t critical toward the postseason. They do, however, give swimmers a marker and a chance to race, which was the case against Newport. 

Jude Wenker, the defending state champion in the 100 freestyle, lost to Nathan Lee in the 200 IM, 1:55.63 to 1:56.42. Lee caught Wenker in the final few strokes. 

Jude Wenker of Bainbridge swims the breaststroke leg in the 200-yard individual medley during a dual meet against Newport, Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020, at Bainbridge Aquatic Center. (Annette Griffus/West Sound SportsPlus)

“I’ve never seen Jude lose,” Taylor said of Wenker.

“It was fun,” Wenker said of competing against Newport, but not necessarily losing a race. “I think it was the loudest I’ve heard cheering (at Bainbridge).

Wenker, who recently finished the club season, took a longer than normal break over Christmas to recover and is once again keying in on the 100 and 200 freestyles at the state meet. 

Wenker and Cohen hesitated when asked about winning a fourth team title, but also couldn’t help the broad smiles that lit their faces.

“We’ve had a rocky start, with some state swimmers being really sick,” Wenker said. “But, we have a good mindset and we’ll see.”

“As captains we haven’t focused so much on pushing state championships, but that’s going to come,” Cohen said.

Taylor said because of Bainbridge’s size, 47 on the roster, they were able to hire another assistant coach — Joy Miller, a Spartan swimming alum. Taylor said the an obstacle for the staff is juggling the pre-meet lineup.

“When you’ve got everyone wanting to swim certain events and needing people in other events, on one hand it’s a challenge because I have to be able to fit that in,” Taylor said, adding it’s also a benefit because kids learn to swim multiple events.

Bainbridge’s Ben Cohen swims in the 200-yard freestyle during a dual meet against Newport, Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020, at Bainbridge Aquatic Center.
(Annette Griffus/West Sound SportsPlus)

The Spartans have one more home meet, Friday against Eastside Catholic, then are at North Kitsap and Bishop Blanchet to finish the season later this month. Metro Championships begin in February, followed by district and state Feb. 21-22 at KCAC in Federal Way. 

It’s the idea another championship is on the horizon that has Bainbridge coming together.

“I think we’ve got a shot like everybody else,” Taylor said. “I think what we’re going to need to do is recognize, one, it’s not just going to happen … and then having the mindset of how do we accomplish that.”

Ben Chapman of Bainbridge swims the 100-yard butterfly during a dual meet against Newport, Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020, at Bainbridge Aquatic Center. (Annette Griffus/West Sound SportsPlus)

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