Jude Wenker and his Bainbridge swim teammates have historic opportunities this weekend.
Wenker, the senior leader for the Spartans, can become the first Bainbridge High School athlete to win individual and team state championships in all four years of his high-school career.
And the Spartans can move a step closer to some of the most rarefied water in Washington state championship history. If Bainbridge wins the Class 3A team title at King County Aquatic Center on Saturday for the fourth consecutive season, the Spartans put their program in a conversation that includes only three other schools.
“It would be historic,” Bainbridge coach Kaycee Taylor said. “That would be Wilson High School back in the day. That would be Mercer Island.”
The Islanders won six consecutive championships between 2006 and 2011. Sehome won four consecutive titles between 2009-12. Dick Hannula’s Wilson Rams won 24 titles between 1960 and 1983, a streak recognized by the National Federation of State High School Associations as the longest recorded by a single coach at one public school in high school boys swimming history.
“I knew it, at the start of this season, that there would be a lot of talk,” Taylor said. “I knew people would be asking.”
After three consecutive titles, led by a highly touted class that graduated a year ago, Bainbridge knew the path to another championship would have to be different. If the Spartans are to win again, it will not be on the strength of a few swimmers scoring points by winning several events.
“The cliché of success breeds success; I really do believe that,” Taylor said. “We have the biggest team we’ve ever had. It’s going to be a fight, and we may not have the guys like (Kevin) Houseman that we know will win at the back end of the meet. But I’ve got guys. We’ve got some depth.”
And the Spartans still have Wenker, who has contributed titles in the 100 freestyle every year he’s been at Bainbridge. A year ago, as a junior, Wenker added a title in the 200 free as well. He swam all-America consideration times in both, going 1:39.93 in the 200 and 45.6 seconds in the 100.
“As a freshman, I didn’t really expect it,” Wenker said. “But now, it’s a goal. For each meet, I like to have a goal instead of just going out and swimming.”
At his final home meet a few weeks ago, Wenker had a specific goal. There were pool records (not just school records) that had been on the board at the Bainbridge Island pool since 1978.
Taylor needed Wenker to swim certain events. But to help, he altered the order of a relay so that Wenker would swim the first leg of the 200 free relay instead of the anchor. Wenker went out that night and broke the pool records for the 200 free, 100 butterfly and 50 free (via the relay).
“Of course, Jude did that,” Taylor said. “He’s such a quiet leader. He does what he needs to do. It was awesome. He had a plan going into the meet, he set his mind to it. He just knocks my socks off.”
Taylor and the Spartans have talked a lot this season about mindset.
“Every day,” said Taylor, who recently informed his team that this season will be his last as head coach. “I shared that with my team before Metros. But we had to keep focused for these two weeks. We have had to get to that place where we can get to where we want to be.”
That place, of course, is at the top of the podium once again.
“We’re not training them any differently, not changing anything,” Taylor said. “But it’s the mindset of being a champion. It’s the hard work. We are in this as a team. Our goal is to be there for each other. There’s no secret sauce. That’s what makes you a state champion.”
“I haven’t been talking about dynasty or legacy because I really believe it is a mindset. I can’t imagine being in that rarefied area. But three is a good start. Four would be a great next step.”