OLYMPIA – Stopwatch in hand, Olympia High girls swim coach Mel Smith looked sharp – a white tie complementing a light blue, pinstripe dress shirt – as he timed his troupe of aquatic athletes.
Smith’s wardrobe was perfect for the occasion as the annual South Sound Relays are seriously competitive; everyone is focused and dialed in. After all, this is for county-wide bragging rights.
But the event is also just plain fun.
Fittingly, Smith accommodated for this as well with shorts and sneakers for the lower half of his outfit.
Like Smith’s outfit, the event, now in its third year, is certainly a unique blend; consider it local swimming’s version of a mullet – half business, half party.
That 50/50 balance, however, veered drastically into celebration for Olympia once the final points were tallied as the Bears knocked off defending champion North Thurston to claim the overall team title Saturday at The Evergreen State College.
“That’s quite a different reaction from last year,” said Smith, seconds after handing the first-place trophy to his team, raising the level of his voice considerably in an effort to be heard over his swimmers who were in a joyful frenzy. “North Thurston nipped us by just three points last year.”
The Bears finished with 499.5 points, comfortably bettering the total of runner-up North Thurston (461).
Tumwater finished third with 384.5, while Capital (325), South Kitsap (272), Shelton (256) and Black Hills (77) completed the order of finish.
As loud as the Olympia swimmers were once they hoisted the hardware, the noise was actually a touch lower than during the events, when it seemed all the non-participating swimmers from each school would cheer on whoever was in the pool, regardless of which mascot appeared on the side of their swimming caps.
“It’s just a fun event to swim at,” said North Thurston sophomore Silem Hernandez, who teamed with Arielle Howell to win the 2x100 freestyle relay (1 minute, 59.44 seconds). “Everyone is pushing for each other. It’s less stressful than league meets. You just go out there and swim.”
The brainchild of Smith and Capital coach Burke Anderson, the meet featured 11 relay events, with each event divided into three heats.
North Thurston, Olympia and Tumwater each captured three events, while Capital took first in the other two.
Olympia’s team of Sarah Norman, Melissa Ward, Hannah Flotlin and Caitlyn Linton won the 800 freestyle relay in a meet-record time of 8:41.80, bettering the previous mark by more than 17 seconds.
“We didn’t know what the record was coming in. So everyone was pretty surprised when they announced it,” freshman Linton said. “It’s nice to set it. It’s definitely something to try to improve on the next three years.”
Norman also won the 2x200 butterfly, teaming up with Taylor Jones to stop the clock in a speedy 2:08.
“It’s always nice to get a break from league dual meets and swim against the other schools in the area,” Norman said. “You can use this meet as a measuring stick to where you stack up against the other local swimmers.”
Flotlin was also a dual winner for the Bears, winning the 2x100 breaststroke with Charlotte Smith (2:28.60).
North Thurston won the 2x100 backstroke with Dana Lawson-Rivera and Arriya Hagen, who partnered with Ashley Bierman to win the 2x200 free.
Tumwater took first place in three events: the 400 medley with the team of Abby Sullivan, Anneka Stoker, Lorraine Hack and Kylie Otton; the 2x100 medley with Hack and Sullivan; and the 200 free with Stoker, Otton, Hack and Sullivan.
Capital’s Hansi Willoughby won the 2x50 freestyle with Jada Pearson and also helped the Cougars win the 400 free, teaming up with Jessica Eidenmuller, Pearson and Jenessa Schulte.