By Rich Myhre Herald Writer
MUKILTEO — For all he has accomplished in swimming, and the list is long, one prize has eluded John Stupey.
The Kamiak High School senior, who holds five school records and has finished first in more races than he can count, has never won an individual state title. He has been close, including a runner-up finish in the 100-meter butterfly a year ago, but has never experienced the thrill and elation of standing alone atop a podium at a state championship event.
But maybe soon.
With the state Class 4A swimming and diving championships just a week away, Stupey is aiming at two individual titles. He has qualified in eight individual events, but is limited to just two and will swim the 200 individual medley and the 500 freestyle.
And the idea of finishing first in one or the other, or both, is a tantalizing notion.
“It would be so much fun to stand (atop the podium) and know you were the fastest that day,” said the 18-year-old Stupey. “To know that you raced and came out No. 1. If that happens, it’d be really cool.”
In fact, Stupey does have a taste of winning at state. A year ago he swam the leadoff leg of Kamiak’s 400 freestyle relay team, and the Knights built an early lead and then held off Eastlake of Sammamish by .03 for the championship.
Also, Stupey was a sophomore in 2011 — he finished fourth in the 100 freestyle and sixth in the 100 backstroke — when Kamiak won its second of two team titles (the other was in 2009).
“State is pretty important this year,” he said. “And it’d be really nice to come away with a win, both for the team and for the individual events. That’d be a lot of fun.”
In the meantime, Stupey will get one final week of race preparation at this week’s 4A District swimming and diving meet at the Kamiak pool. The prelims were Thursday and the finals will be Saturday afternoon.
Stupey already has one memorable swim this season. Competing in the 200 IM at last month’s Kentridge Invitational, he led for most of the race and finished in 1:53.34, bettering both his own personal best and the meet record by a few seconds. Unfortunately, Tommy Thach of Burien’s Kennedy slipped in front on the final freestyle leg to edge Stupey in 1:53.06.
“We both finished and looked up (at the times), and (Thach) said, ‘Wow.’ … It was exciting. We both shattered the meet record. It wasn’t even close. We just destroyed it.”
“That (race) was a jaw-dropper for the crowd to see,” said Kamiak coach Chris Erickson. And for Stupey, he added, “you just keep thinking, how can he keep dropping (time) so dramatically?”
The Kentridge race convinced Stupey to swim the IM at state this year for the first time. And it makes sense for another reason, too. He is a gifted all-around swimmer, but by his own admission, “I’m not a real superstar in any one event. … So I think the IM has really become a good event for me.”
Stupey, who has accepted a partial scholarship offer to swim next year at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, says he is looking forward to the intense and highly competitive races at state.
“I’m going to go faster as long as I’ve got somebody there pushing me,” he explained. “I really don’t like to lose, so if there’s somebody next to me then I’m trying to race my hardest and trying to win. That’s when I swim my fastest, when I’m trying to catch somebody or trying to make sure nobody gets ahead of me.”
Chris Erickson, Kamiak’s coach, has big hopes for Stupey in the days ahead. Because as good as he has been to date, there is a feeling he can still be better.
“He just continues to be a surprise,” Erickson said. “And you (wonder), how fast can he really get?”
Looking ahead to state, “my expectation is that he’s going to do his best, and that’s obviously going to happen,” Erickson went on. “But if we talk about goals … he wants to be a state champ. Without exactly saying that, that’s something we’ve talked about.
“And of course we’d love to have a team championship, too,” he said. “So as we march through this, we’ll see how many of those goals we can accomplish.”