The last two years, Newport has left the King County Aquatic Center in Federal Way with the Class 4A girls state swimming championship trophy.
Another year means another chance for the Knights to be dethroned, but that doesn’t seem likely. The Knights and Curtis High School enter the meet, which is Friday and Saturday, with the most swimmers (13), meaning those two schools have the most chances to put points on the board and leave with the championship.
Despite losing a few key seniors from last year’s team, including Yulia Groysman, who is swimming at Northwestern, the Knights haven’t seemed to miss a beat this season. They are undefeated and coming off another district championship.
“We look fairly strong,” Newport coach Eric Bartleson said. “We’ve got at least 18 or 19 splashes going (events with swimmers in them at state), and that’s a pretty good number. We’ve got some strong swimmers returning. We did graduate a few. But we’ve a couple of freshmen that have come up and are doing real well and the sophomores are doing a little better.
“I think we’re the favorite. We’ve got the most swims.”
Since 2009, Newport has placed in the top 10 at state every year, including four championships. The Knights placed second three times, making them one of the most successful swimming programs in the state. They just missed an opportunity for a threepeat in 2014, when they finished one point behind Richland and Jackson, which tied for the title.
“The girls came into this season expecting to go for a third one,” Bartleson said. “… Threepeats are hard. I think that the girls are really focused on wanting to have some great swims. They know what it takes to win the meet, and I’ve got a bunch of girls swimming real strong.”
There is no question that the girls are focused on trying to win a third in a row, which would be historic for Newport.
“I honestly think it would be amazing,” junior Jaime Chen said. “This is nothing that has ever happened before in the history of our school. It would just mean so much to the team to be able to do this. It just shows how hard we work and how strong this team is and how well we like fighting for what we want.”
Bartleson is quick to point out that winning a team title is dependent on all of the swimmers scoring points.
“A state title, it’s not just one or two girls that can do it,” he said. “It’s got to be a whole team. What I’m really happy about is the number of swims we have going to state. You can do pretty well with just a few girls, but you need to have the three relays and all those swims scoring points here and there. It’s a real team effort. You’ve got have the talent, but you have to have the rest of the team there to back it up.”
The Knights do have a few swimmers who should compete for individual championships Saturday. Among those are senior Gracie Wang, senior Samantha Baron and Chen.
Wang placed fourth last year in the finals of the 50-yard freestyle, but last year’s winner, North Creek’s Gabby Dang, graduated, leaving the field open.
“We’ll see,” Bartleson said. “The 50 free is always a little bit of rolling the dice. You’ve got to hit everything right. Your start has to be great, your turn has to be great and you’ve got to bring it home and finish it.”
Chen figures to be in the mix for the 100-freestyle title and the 200-individual medley, but Baron, who is the defending champion in the event, might have something to say about that.
“I definitely want to go for my best times, and I want to see how far I can push myself,” Chen said. “I had a really good districts, so I’m excited to see how fast I can go at state. I just want to do the best that I can and push myself past what I think I can do.”
Baron, a UCLA commit, will look to defend her title in the 200 IM and break through in the 100 butterfly, an event she finished second in last year.
“Being that I’m the returning state champion in the 200 IM, I think the expectations are pretty high that people have on me,” Baron said. “As for the 100 fly, I’m excited to see what the competition is going to be like.”