Sometimes in sports, despite careful planning and practicing, it all goes haywire in the competition. Other times, the effort is rewarded with a moment when it all comes together.
“Electrifying” is how Capital High School girls swimming coach Burke Anderson describes it.
His Cougars entered last weekend’s District IV 2A championships with only one competitor, junior Jenessa Schulte in the 200-yard freestyle, having swum a state-qualifying time. By Saturday evening, Capital had secured eight spots in individual events for the state meet, which begins its two-day run Friday at the King County Aquatic Center in Federal Way, and surged to the top in two relays.
The Cougars are seeded first at state in the Class 2A 200-free relay (1 minute, 45.11 seconds) and third in the 400-free relay (3:49.79).
“The district meet validated a lot of what we’ve been doing all year,” said Anderson, whose team overcame injuries and illness this season. “The relays were swum with such force. They did all the things we’ve talked about: pushing the envelope, swimming with courage.
“It was almost scary they were so tough.”
Tough enough that Schulte, sophomore Jada Pearson, senior Madeline Hoffman and junior Jessica Eidenmuller swam their best 100-free times, pushed on by a roaring crowd at The Evergreen State College, the Cougars’ home pool.
“It’s a process we’ve been training for all season. It took districts for it to come together in such an extreme way,” said Eidenmuller, who swam the anchor leg. “We feed off each other’s energy so well. ... I saw their energy and their speed, so by the time I hit the water, I wanted it more than I did before the race started.”
Hoffman had every excuse to back off in the relay after swimming back-to-back-to-back events, but she didn’t.
“I said, ‘I really have to empty everything I have into this,’ ” Hoffman said.
Pearson tied for high-point honors at the district meet, winning the 50 free and 100 free, and participating on the two relays. She’s seeded fifth in the 50 free (25.81) behind top-seeded Taylor Wilson of Ellensburg (24.89) and fifth in the 100 free (57.11) behind Squalicum freshman Sydney Wong (54.30).
For Pearson, the equation when it came to the final relay — the 400 free — was simple.
“In practice we say, ‘Next one’s the best one,’ ” she said. “In a meet, the last one’s the best one. There is no reason to have anything left over at the end of a meet.”
Schulte is seeded ninth in the 200 free (2:05.34) and 15th in the 100 butterfly (1:06.18). Eidenmuller will also swim the 200 free (2:06.49) but is expected to be a stronger contender in the 100 fly, where her time of 1:03.16 puts her fifth behind Klahowya’s Kelsey Crane (1:00.56).
Hoffman is slightly behind Eidenmuller in the 100 fly (1:03.58) and will also compete in the 100 backstroke (1:06.00).
“Jenessa was in, and the other three were just nipping away, trying to get to a state-qualifying time,” Anderson said. “It took the atmosphere of the district meet to get them focused. They were ready, pumped, and once they got going, it was like a chain reaction.”
But it is the ongoing success of the four as a relay team that has highlighted Capital’s season.
At the 2012 state meet, three of the four — Hoffman has replaced the graduated Hansine Willoughby — finished third in the 200-free relay behind Evergreen Conference rival Tumwater’s meet-record performance and fifth in the 400 free, where the Thunderbirds shattered another meet record.
“As Tumwater experienced last year, once in a blue moon all the right pieces align,” Anderson said. “For our four girls to come together at this point in their lives is wonderful.”
Anderson has seen it before. The longtime Capital coach watched as relay teams at the same distances led the Cougars to the Class 4A state title in 2001. Their 400-free time of 3:35.32 remains a school record.
With their toughest competition coming from distant points such as Squalicum, Pullman and Ellensburg, the Cougars know little about their opponents except their times, though they occasionally bump into girls from other areas during club swim meets.
The Cougars believe they have a slight edge from having qualified for state in at least one event every season of their high school careers, but they point to a bigger reason they are excited to swim this weekend: the chilly waters of the expansive King County Aquatic Center.
“It’s a grand facility,” Schulte said. “It looks like a championship pool.”
Hoffman calls it “daunting.”
“You know it’s a place where so many champions have swum before, it has so much history,” Eidenmuller added.
Pearson minced few words: “It’s the mindset you get when you go there. You say, ‘I’m at KCAC, I’m about to rip this pool into tidal waves.’ ”