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.
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.|
“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.”
“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.
|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.