This weekend, the Archbishop Murphy team is trying to change that.
After finishing a distant second to Sehome last season the Wildcats are hoping the fifth time is the charm at the 2013 state championship, which starts today at the King County Aquatic Center in Federal Way. The 2A swimming classification began in 2008.
"We're excited," Archbishop Murphy head coach Mike McCloskey said. "We know we're in contention. Sehome didn't win four state titles by a fluke. They have a great program, great swimmers and their depth is just unreal."
The aptly named Sehome Mariners will get another boost this year thanks to a new scoring system. Instead of scoring eight swimmers, 16 will get points, which McCloskey said definitely helps Sehome more than the Wildcats.
"On the top end -- the top three finishers -- we're better than them," McCloskey said. "But they've got more athletes in (consolation races) and pick up those points. So they'll have more swimmers at state than we will. It's our top end versus their depth."
Archbishop Murphy is working on some depth of its own. The Wildcats doubled their team from last year -- going from 12 to 24 swimmers -- while not graduating a single senior. And there are a couple of fourth-year swimmers that will be leading Archbishop Murphy in their final high school state tournament.
Alec Barnard, the Wildcats' lone individual champion last year in the 100-yard butterfly, is back along with fellow senior Hunter Cosgrove. Both swimmers were on a state championship-winning 400 freestyle relay team last year, both will swim collegiately next season and both are excited to end their high school career on top.
"I'm pretty excited," Barnard said. "I think the most exciting part is we could potentially win. Four years ago I would have never thought that even could be a possibility."
McCloskey might agree. His second year into the boys program -- now in its fifth year -- he had a star in Barnard, but not a lot of depth around him.
"Alec Barnard, when he came here freshman year, we called it Gladys Knight and no Pips. There was just nobody to back him up," McCloskey said. "Over the last couple of years we've been able to build a team around him. It's been fun to see the team mature."
The Wildcats still finished 13th in their first state tournament in 2009, and followed that up with finishes of sixth, tenth and then the second-place award last year. The improvement has Archbishop Murphy thinking upset.
"Last year was really fun," said Cosgrove, who swims in the 100 freestyle and 100 backstroke, as well as the freestyle relays. "We got second and we got second by a long shot. And they were solidly ahead. I think we've got what it takes, but it's going to take all that we've got."
Archbishop Murphy has been training hard for this tournament all season. They share the West Coast Aquatics pool in Mill Creek with the Jackson team. The Timberwolves practice in the afternoon, while Archbishop Murphy gets up early to use the pool from 6-7 a.m.
The early morning swimming experience might come in handy at state, where the 2A boys are the first group to swim at 10 a.m.
"Fortunately for us we're in the first session this year," McCloskey said. "We're at 10 o'clock. We're used to training at six in the morning. For us this is sleeping in."
Along with Cosgrove and Barnard, Archbishop Murphy has a couple of younger swimmers eager to make their return to the state tournament. Sophomores Stephen Boden (200 individual medley, 500 freestyle and freestyle relays) and Alec's brother Austin Barnard (500 freestyle, 200 freestyle and freestyle relays) are excited to return to the state tournament after a strong showing -- including a win in the final event of last year's tournament, the 400 freestyle relay -- as freshmen.
They think they'll be much less nervous during their second go at state.
"There was an incredible amount of nerves," Boden said. "Before prelims I honestly felt like I was going to throw up. But coming in this year, it feels a lot more relieving with a year of experience under my belt."
Austin, who enjoys swimming on relay teams with his older brother, hopes that he can send the seniors out on top.
"I think our training has really kicked up," Austin Barnard said. "This last year, after getting second, we noticed what we can do. We're thinking, 'If we work harder we could actually win this thing next year.' I think we have to have the perfect meet. But I'm pretty sure we can do that."
Said Boden: "It's going to be hard not having Alec and Hunter here. And all the seniors that aren't coming back. It's going to be a fun last hurrah this weekend with them. We're going to try to carry on what they've been doing here and keep the legacy going."
The Seattle University-bound Alec Barnard, who will swim in the 50 freestyle and 100 butterfly as well as the freestyle relays, knows it's going to take a lot of work to unseat the defending champs.
"We're all going to need to swim our hardest, especially in the relays," he said.
Cosgrove, who will be swimming at Pacific Lutheran University next year, has mixed feelings about the end of his Wildcats' career. He's looking forward to sleeping in, but he's going to miss his teammates.
"There is a little bit of relief. Once I'm done I am done with my high school career and I get to sleep in every day until 6:30, which will seem like a lot," said Cosgrove. "But then, it's a little bittersweet. I've been swimming with Austin, Alec and Stephen for about five years now in high school and club. It's kind of sad going our separate ways but it's been a really good run."
McCloskey believes a top-two finish is a "realistic expectation" for Archbishop Murphy. And while everybody, himself included, wants the Wildcat seniors to leave with a championship, McCloskey said success won't be entirely measured by what trophy Archbishop Murphy takes home.
It will also be measured by the stopwatch.
"The nice thing about swimming, like with track, you always have best times," McCloskey said. "If you get a best time and you get last place you did great. With our kids if they get best times they're going to be top three, maybe first place. Our goal is always to get their best times in the last meet and I think they're in position to do that."
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