As his 400-meter freestyle relay went onto the podium at the Curtis High School Aquatic Center on Saturday, the Olympia High School swimmers started an impromptu chorus of “Happy Birthday” to coach Mel Smith.
The silver-haired Smith smiled and waved from across the pool.
The Bears had already given Smith his best present of the day, a third-place finish at the West Central District boys swim finals, qualifying a handful of swimmers for the state championship meet in the process.
“It’s our best finish in quite a while,” Smith said. “We don’t have diving; we’re not allowed to by the school district. Subtract the diving and we finished second.”
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Senior Andrew Wright paced the Bears with a first place in the 200 individual medley (1 minute, 59.26 seconds), as well as a fourth place in the 100 breaststroke (1:01.26). Wright was the top qualifier in both events.
Curtis won the meet with 506 1/2 points, running away with its third consecutive district title. Stadium finished second with 289 points, nosing out Olympia at 279.
Timberline finished 10th with 65 points.
Wright’s fourth-place finish in the breaststroke had him feeling upbeat as he eyed the upcoming state championship meet.
“That was my second-fastest time ever in the 100 breaststroke, so I’m really happy with that,” he said. “I think just getting back to practice and fine-tuning some stuff for the school record and I’ll be set.”
Eli Champagne also had a big day for Olympia with a fourth in the 200 IM and a second in the 100 butterfly.
The Vikings kept their district title streak alive with their impressive depth. They came away with only two individual titles (including JJ Spoja’s victory in diving), but swept all three relays and had finishers in the top two in every event except the 100 backstroke and 100 butterfly.
Curtis’ day was highlighted by junior Sam Abbott taking first in the 100 freestyle (48.77) after a disappointing second in the 50.
Gig Harbor junior Ryan Grady swept the 200 freestyle (1:48.03) and the 500 freestyle (4:55.23), the only swimmer to win two individual events.
Part of Smith’s haul with Olympia was to come away with around 10 state qualifiers, a number that could grow depending how the other districts play out.
“Right now, we’re sitting with nine or 10 individual swims,” he said. “That’s a good turnout for Olympia.”