FEDERAL WAY — Hailey Sears didn’t win the 50-yard freestyle on Saturday night.

But her move from the seventh-best preliminary swim to a second-place finish in the finals at the Class 4A state girls swimming and diving championships at King County Aquatic Center personified what the Tahoma Bears have been all about this season.

Exceeding expectations.

Sears move in the ‘A’ Final added an extra five points (17 instead of 12) to Tahoma’s total as a part of the Bears’ eventual 315.5-224 victory over runner-up Curtis. It is the Tahoma program’s first state team title.

“The girls have been working toward this goal since their freshman year,” Tahoma coach Theresa Castaneda said. “When they first came to us about this, we told them to go ahead and try.”

Former Bears coach Dave Wright and assistant Castaneda didn’t necessarily believe it.

“Everything just came to fruition this year,” Castaneda said. “The girls really did this as a team. There were not one or two superstars.”


They got rolling from the start Saturday, scoring in virtually every event while not winning a single individual title.

The Bears posted a 1-minute, 45.26-second time in the first event of the meet, the 200 medley relay, to grab the early lead. Freshman Elayne Chen’s second-place finish in the 200 free built on the momentum, then Sears made her move.

“I’m pretty much a finals swimmer, and it comes down to pretty much wanting to do this for my team,” Sears said. “After the relay, I was just pumped, and I’m like, I’m ready for this and we’re trying to get this state title and I am going to do everything in my power.”

Curtis stayed close the first three-quarters of the meet, and trailed the Bears just 156.5-146 after seven events. Tahoma scored 30 with a pair of ‘A’ finalists in the 500 free and tried to pull away.

But Vikings senior Gabi Bellin made the final turn of the 200 free relay even with Chen, and pushed in front over the final 25 yards to give Curtis the victory and close the gap to 220.5-186 heading into the final three events.

The Vikings had just one swim left in the final two individual events, while the Bears scored four times from two swimmers each in the championship finals of the back and 100 breaststroke.


That proved enough for the Bears to end the streak of three consecutive championships by Newport from 2017-19. The 2020 meet was a victim of the COVID-19 pandemic. And that absence wasn’t lost on folks.

“I walked in today and looked around,” Issaquah coach Laura Halter said. “I realized I missed this place.”

Two swimmers were double winners, both from Redmond.

Junior Michelle Chen won the 100 back in 55.17 seconds and the 100 free in 51.01. Catherine Yu, a senior, recorded an All-America consideration time of 2:03.13 to take the 200 IM title and an automatic All-America time of 1:01.38 (just .05 off the meet record set by Gig Harbor’s Carolyn McCann in 2013) in the 100 breast.

Yu earned the swimmer of the meet for her efforts.