Competitive swimming.

As Camas High School Freshman Ryan Gunther says  “it’s not as easy as it looks.” Gunther, who recently wrapped up his first season as a Papermaker swimmer was surprised by the amount of effort it takes to be a competitive swimmer.

“I did it to stay in shape for the winter,” he says, “so I could be conditioned for track this spring. It was a big surprise. These guys all work really hard and they’re in the best shape.”

Gunther was part of a 35-member Camas Boy’s Swim Team this past season that went undefeated in regular season (8-0) and won the 3A District Championship. On February 18, eight Camas swimmers competed in the State 3A finals and several made it to the awards podium, placing ninth overall in the state.

Pretty amazing.

Especially considering the team placed 21st at State last year and the program itself is only 10 years old. And to top it off, there isn’t a lot of water around here, says Head Coach Mike Bemis. He’s referring to the lack of decent competitive swimming pools in the area.

“I am really proud of the boys,” he said. “Most of them are here twice a day four or five times a week and swim the equivalent of 3.5 miles during our 90-minute practices. They work very, very hard, and it’s paying off.”

Outgoing Senior and co-captain, Ian Ulmer, says “I’m pleased with the effort so many of our players have put into the season.”

Team warms up before State Prelims.
The team practices at Lacamas Swim and Sport Club in Camas and the numbers are impressive. The practices consist of a hodge-podge of several schools (Camas, Hockinson and Prairie) simply because the other schools lack the numbers and “water” to accommodate the swimmers. Basically, the support isn’t there, so Camas takes the leadership.Jaron Hamlik, who is Prairie’s lone swimmer, impressed the viewers at State with his results.

“Jaron has a strong work ethic,” says Ian. “He comes to work at practice every day, and works hard to make himself better, to improve his times.”

Lacamas Magazine came along late to the party this season, but got to spend multiple practices and three separate events with the Camas High School Boy’s Swim team that very recently made it to the podium at the 3A Divisional Championship Games.

It’s a sport that sometimes gets a bad wrap, and too often lacks the coverage or recognition it deserves.

Shaved heads, shaved legs, chlorine, tiny suits, expensive suits, leg suits, all contribute to a perception that things are sort of well, odd. There’s swimmer humor, swimmer jokes – you get the picture. Then you hear guys from other sports say “oh, those swimmers, they’re wimps … we’re way stronger …”

Nothing could be further from the truth.

At our first covered event, the team had just completed their last regular meet at Lacamas and went undefeated. Impressive.

My own sons saw the competition and were amazed at the speed, technique and agility they saw. The 11 year-old said to his younger brother, “dude, look at the muscles on that guy!” while flexing his own biceps.

“Swimmers are the best-conditioned athletes out there,” said Camas resident, Susan Neff, a former swimmer herself. “All the muscles get worked out, the lung capacity increases, and the endurance a swimmer has would beat any football player. Swimmers have it all.”

Bemis agrees.

“These boys get an amazing workout,” he says. “They are in the best shape of their lives.”

Bemis and Co-Captain Nick Kabel said breathing techniques are a big part of competitive swimming. “We train the boys to take one breath along the first leg of any swim. We teach them how breathing properly will help them get through the race. We practice as we would compete. It’s intense.”

Yes it is.

Freshman Kasey Calwell, said “the 6 am practices are grueling and have made for a challenging season.”

It’s no fun arriving at 5:45 am to a cold pool and then swimming for 90 minutes, says Freshman Lucas Ulmer. He along with brother, Ian, generally attend two practices a day. The schedule makes staying awake during the day a challenge at times.

Once you realize what these swimmers go through, you find the meets much more interesting. It’s more than a body gliding through the water. It’s about technique, diving in correctly, breathing correctly, flipping correctly. It’s about properly synchronizing the entire body. It’s about inches and centimeters of space between the water and the wall. Seconds and milliseconds separate champions. For these guys, times are the focus of entire discussions.

Nick Kabel
Anxiety. Awaiting results.

“I want to get under a minute,” says Jake Yraceburu. “If I can just get it under one minute.”

Again, it’s impressive.

And then there are the emotions.

“Seventy percent of swimming in my opinion is mental,” says Calwell. “From the suit to shaving to the meet itself and the competition. You can do anything if you set your mind to it.”

Calwell himself experience trouble with his high-tech suit at State. “It kept bubbling up on me – it was frustrating,” he said. The fabric on his suit fits like a second skin as it repels water, and can cost several hundred dollars.

We watched the swimmers at several practices, and then at three events: 1) The final regular season game; 2) The District Championships; and 3) The State Finals.

The boys worked hard at each practice, paying close attention to their coach’s instructions and then competed with the same level of intensity. Confidence exuded at the regular season closer and again at the District Championship meet in Kelso, where they won handily. Smiles were on many faces.

But at the State Prelims you could sense the nervousness on many of their faces. Exuberance and energy a week earlier had turned into edginess and bickering.

For several, it was the first time competing at State. And it is daunting. The King County Aquatic Center is a massive structure, and the boys were in the presence of dozens of other schools whose goal it was to simply crush everyone in their way.

It was sea of athletes, literally. It’s amazing how a swim cap and goggles changes a person’s persona. They’re competitors, and it’s their job to intimidate you.

Swimmers from Shorewood could be overhead talking smack about a particular Camas swimmer.

At prelims, one Camas swimmer was eliminated, and another was disqualified for not touching a wall sensor.

Bemis had several one-on-one’s with his team, and you could see the disappointed faces on several of the athletes.

Times at the heats weren’t as good as expected and the top 8 finishes, in many cases, weren’t happening.

Frustration set in, but eventually most tried to shake it off.

Calwell said at the end of prelims: “You have nothing to lose if you’re in 8th place — I can shake this off.”

Kabel, who a week earlier set a pool record in the 50 Free at Districts struggled at State.

“I didn’t do my best today and I’m really disappointed,” he said.

Calwell provided his perspective on State: “Well for me prelims is just a warm-up to the big event for finals. Sometimes, for some people, there’s more pressure for prelims than for finals because they need to lock a certain place in an event. I really wanted championship finals in the 100 breast and 200 IM but didn’t get it in prelims. Still I barely got some best times and came out of the meet feeling good.”

Calwell continued: “As Jake said, I sometimes feel really ready to take it on and sometimes I just don’t feel in the groove. Today, I felt really good and ready to take on anything. I don’t know but on prelims I was very frustrated as you saw, and I just was tired and couldn’t get momentum. But I got a little momentum at the end of yesterday and was able to ride the wave coming into today.”

Lucas Ulmer, though, was calm about everything. “I’m totally confident about finals, no worries, we’ll be fine,” he said.

Everyone turned it around the very next day. They really wanted to get Top 8 in their events.

And they did it in two of three relays – placing eighth in the 200 Medley Relay and 7th in the 200 Free Relay. Here were the teams:

  • 200 Medley Relay: 8th place, consisting of Lucas Ulmer, Jake Yraceburu, Nick Kabel, and John Utas.
  • 200 Free Relay: 7th place, consisting of John Utas, Kasey Calwell, Jake Yraceburu, and Nick Kabel.

And Jake Yraceburu tied for 5th place in the 100 Breaststroke.

All are amazing feats.

Kabel was happy with the overall season and how well his teammates performed.

Now that the season is over, the boys can contemplate on the experiences, on what they learned and on what’s next.

For Kabel, Ulmer and several other teammates, it’s the end of the line for high school. In the fall, they’ll report to their chosen colleges, and look back on the years they had together building a swimming program.

“It’s been a blast,” said Kabel. “We’re leaving the program in good hands with such great Freshmen swimmers. Look at what they can do.”

For the Freshmen and others, it’ll be, says Calwell “about I think I can improve on turns, starts, and little innuendoes on my swimming. I need to clean up on the little stuff. They all add up after a while.”

And they do.

The Camas Swim Team ended their season Saturday feeling a lot better than they did at Prelims on Friday, and placed ninth overall in the Washington State 3A Division Championships at the King County Aquatics Center in Federal Way.

“Overall at state I was very pleased by prelims but I was a little disappointed at finals as far as times go,” said Jake Yraceburu.  “But as far as placing on the podium in three of my races I am very excited about that.”

Yraceburu feels he did as much as he could have done at state.

“I gave everything I had in every race I swam,” he said.

The state medal the Camas swimmers received
in the 200 free relay for 7th place!


200 Free Relay: 7th place, consisting of John Utas, Kasey Calwell, Nick Kabel and Jake Yraceburu. 


200 Medley Relay: 8th place, (far left) consisting of Lucas Ulmer,
Jake Yraceburu, Nick Kabel, and John Utas.


Camas Freshman Lucas Ulmer competes in the 100 Backstroke
at the State 3A Division Championships in Federal Way, WA.

 He was one of seven Camas swimmers to compete in Saturday’s finals.

“Today went really well,” said Junior Trent Harimoto. “The relays did really well and I got a personal best time in the 400 free relay. I think 100 free might be my event next year because I have gotten really good at it this year. Considering last year we were in 21st place and now we are in ninth it is pretty awesome. Next year we will probably be in the top 8 easily.”

Here is how things shook out:

  • 200 Medley Relay: 8th place, consisting of Lucas Ulmer, Jake Yraceburu, Nick Kabel, and John Utas.
  • 200 Free Relay: 7th place, consisting of John Utas, Kasey Calwell, Jake Yraceburu, and Nick Kabel.
  • 400 Free Relay: 10th place, consisting of Lucas Ulmer, Ian Ulmer, Kasey Calwell, and Trent Harimoto.
  • 200 IM: Lucas Ulmer, 10th; Kasey Calwell, 11th.
  • 100 Backstroke: Lucas Ulmer, 12th place.
  • 100 Breaststroke: Jake tied for 5th place; Kasey Calwell tied for 12th.

Camas placed just five points behind archrival Mountain View, who they handily beat a week earlier at Districts.

Stay tuned for a seasonal wrap up video on the CHS Swim Team.


The Camas High School Boy’s Swim Team made waves at Saturday’s 3A District Championship game winning the meet and breaking some records along the way.

The swimmers competed in 11 events against several other schools, including Hudson’s Bay, Columbia River, Mountain View, Kelso, Ft. Vancouver, and Prairie, and won enough points overall for their efforts to capture the District title for their second consecutive year.

District team results are as follows: Camas 409, Mountain View 248, Columbia River 230, Kelso 114, Hudson’s Bay 82, Fort Vancouver 54, and Prairie 32.

During Districts two new CHS school records were set in the 200 Medley Relay and by Jake Yraceburu in the 100 Breastroke.  Kelso High School Pool Records were also set by Senior Nick Kabel in 50 Free, the 200 Free Relay and the 200 Medley relay.

“It feels so good to win the last one!” said Co-Captain and Senior, Ian Ulmer. “Everything was awesome, and the number of people who made state cuts really surprised me.”

Kelso Pool
Kelso High School Pool


District Champions
Camas High Boy’s Swimming is No. 1!

Swimmers who take the top two spots in every Finals event, or who have previously qualified for state times, will travel to Federal Way next week to compete in the high school State swim meet.

Swimmers are allowed to only compete in four events and only up to three relays. Relays are four-member races. The meet lasted a little less than three hours.

“The meet went perfectly according to plan,” said Kabel. “Swimmer placement was spot on, and the 200 free was great!”

Here’s how Camas did, by event.

200 Yard Medley Relay: Camas placed second with a time of 1:41.00. The relay team consisted of Junior Jake Yraceburu, Ian Ulmer, Freshman Lucas Ulmer, and Freshman John Utas. These four swimmers made state cut.

200 Yard Freestyle: Camas Junior Seth Albert secured placement at state with a second place finish and a time of 1:57.17. Fellow Camas swimmers Max Urbanek placed third, 1:59.65, and Nick Panebianco placed fourth, 2:01.97.

200 Yard Individual Medley (IM): Prairie High School swimmer Jaron Hamlik, who practices daily with the CHS swimmers, placed first. Freshman Kasey Calwell placed second, 2:01.99, and both will compete at state. Lucas Ulmer placed third, 2:02.95, and Ian Ulmer placed fifth, 2:10.10. Jeffery Lee, 2:20.11; Nicholas Burton, 2:32.64; and XinYang Chen, 2.33.45.

50 Yard Freestyle: Kabel handily won this event with a time of :22.32, and broke a pool record. Utas placed third, :22.92,  and Yraceburu placed sixth, :23.17. Other times include: Trent Harimoto, :23.87, Alastair Graham, :24.37, and Joey Stitzel, :24.53.

100 Yard Butterfly: Kabel placed third with a time of :55.67 and Trent Harimoto placed fourth, at :56.70.

100 Yard Freestyle: Utas placed fifth, :51.28, and Co-captain Alastair Graham placed sixth, :53.53. Joey Stitzel, :54:13, and Alec Geenty, :55.74.

500 Yard Freestyle: Max Urbanek placed fifth, 5:19.74, and Nick Panebianco placed sixth, 5:19.62. Other times include: Seth Albert, 5:36.06; Austin Alling, 6:15.32; and Xiangyang Yan, 6:26.38.

200 Yard Freestyle Relay: Camas won this event with Kabel, Harimoto, Calwell and Utas setting a pool record of 1:32.02. These boys are state-bound!

100 Yard Backstroke: Hamlik won this event; Lucas Ulmer placed third but already had a state qualifying time at Thursday’s races; and Freshman CHS swimmer Nick Langer placed fifth, at 1:03.46. Other finishes include: Jeffery Lee, 1:04.42 and Nick Burton, at 1:12.11.

100 Yard Breaststroke: CHS swimmers snagged the top four spots in this event. Yraceburu won the event with a time of 1:01.02; Calwell, second with a time of  1:03.10; Ian Ulmer, third with a time of 1:06.91; and Joey Wunderlich placed fourth with a time of 1:10.02.

400 Yard Freestyle Relay: CHS swimmers Harimoto, Ian Ulmer, Lucas Ulmer and Calwell made state cut with a second place finish, and a time of 3:24.33.

The seniors faced their last District competition of their high school careers and have enjoyed their experience. The team is losing several top competitors, but they are also confident of the team’s future.

“Kasey [Calwell] is an incredible swimmer,” said Ian. “With the times he posted today, I’m pretty sure that over the rest of his high school swimming career, he will continue to improve in all of his events.”

He is also impressed with his brother, Lucas, as well as Utas, Langer, Urbanek and Freshman Ryan Gunther, who competed in his first season of swimming.

“This year we are definitely losing many solid senior swimmers,” said Urbanek. “But I think we have an incredibly strong freshmen team. Kasey is a great breaststroker, Lucas is a really good backstroke and butterfly swimmer, and John Utas is a super fast freestyle sprinter, and me being a distance swimmer, we have some strong freshmen in every event. Along with the freshmen there are many juniors and sophomores this year that are fast and I’m looking forward to some relays in the following years. I really hope that my senior year I can be a part of that fast relay.”

The team has been working hard for months, with many practicing twice daily. It’s a major commitment.

The following is a list of all CHS swimmers who qualified for Districts:

  • Seth Albert
  • Austin Alling
  • Nick Burton
  • Kasey Calwell
  • Jake Charters
  • Xinyang Chen
  • Alec Geenty
  • Alastair Graham
  • Ryan Gunther
  • Trent Harimoto
  • Nick Kabel
  • Nick Langer
  • Jefferey Lee
  • Nick Panebianco
  • Joey Stitzel
  • Ian Ulmer
  • Lucas Ulmer
  • Max Urbanek
  • John Utas
  • Joey Wunderlich
  • Xiangyang Yan
  • Jake Yraceburu

“As much as I like to complain about how long and hard the race (500 Yard Freestyle) can be, I actually like the longer races, said Urbanek. “There is a lot more strategy to the longer races because you have to pace yourself and spread your energy throughout a longer distance. Training for distance races often includes just lots of distance and stamina work in the pool.”

State-bound swimmers will continue to practice, said Coach Mike Bemis, who is assisted daily by Leslie Dahlen.  The swimmers are grateful for their commitment to coaching and making the team better.

Co-Captains Ian Ulmer, Nick Kabel and Alastair Graham savor victory.


The Papermakers had a great first day at the District Swim Meet on Thursday at Kelso High School as their efforts paid off with qualifying times heading into Saturday’s finals in Kelso.

Camas has qualified 18 out of 22 swimmers for finals. The 200 Medley Relay set a new pool… record and qualified for state going 1:41.28. Relay members were Lucas Ulmer, Jake Yraceburu, Nick Kabel & John Utas. Nick Langer, Nick Panebianco, Max Urbanek and Seth Albert also qualified for finals in the 200 free.

In the 200 IM Kasey Caldwell, Lucas Ulmer, Ian Ulmer, Jeffery Lee, Nicholas Burton and Xinyang Chen qualified for finals. Kasey Calwell qualified for State, as well. In the 50 free qualifying for finals and State were Nick Kabel, John Utas, Jake Yraceburu. Also qualifing for finals were Trent Harimoto, Joey Stitzel & Alistair Graham.

Kabel set a new pool record in the 50 free.

In the 100 butterfly Nick Kabel qualified for state, and also qualifying for finals were Trent Harimoto, Xyangyang Yan, Joey Wunderlich. In the 100 free John Utas, Alistair Graham, Joey Stitzel, Alec Geenty qualified for finals.

In the 500 free qualifying for finals are Max Urbanek, Nicholas Panebianco, Seth Albert, Xiangyang Yan, & Austin Alling. In the 100 back Lucas Ulmer, Nick Langer, Jeffery Lee & Nicholas Burton qualified for finals. In the 100 breast Jake Yraceburu and Kasey Calwell qualified for State; and Ian Ulmer, Joey Wunderlich & XinYang Chen qualified for finals. Camas 200 free & 400 free relays are seated first.

Information provided by Marcia Johnson, of CHS Athletics.

This story is developing …

Relay Team
In the above photo, from left to right: John Utas, Lucas Ulmer, Jake Yraceburu, and Nick Kabel
set a new pool record in the 200 Medley Relay and qualified for state going 1:41.28.


Alastair Graham
In the 100 free John Utas, Alistair Graham (pictured above), Joey Stitzel, Alec Geenty qualified for finals.