With upwards of 60 kids, the Jackson girls swim team can look more like a football team than a swimming team.
Two of those swimmers, seniors Kaitlin Taylor and Kaela McKee, are Jackson’s dynamic duo which hopes to help the Timberwolves return to the state tournament. Last season, Taylor placed third in the 100-meter butterfly and seventh in the 200 individual medley. McKee tied for fifth in the 50 freestyle and finished eighth in the 100 backstroke. The pair helped lead the Timberwolves to a 16th-place showing at the state tournament.
This season the two swimmers have stepped up as leaders in the pool, and have a strong Jackson team excited about what could happen.
“They naturally demonstrate a degree of leadership,” Timberwolves head coach Drew Whorley said. “They’re really liked by the whole team. They give out kudos and pat each other on the back.”
They are the top two swimmers on a team that Jackson head coach Drew Whorley calls his biggest team ever. He attributes the strong turnout to word of mouth around school and the fact that swimming is a non-cut sport.
“I like to think the team has a pretty good buzz around the school,” said Whorley, in his 15th season as the Jackson coach. “And there’s a post-Olympic surge. It’s great for the sport to have so many kids care about it.”
One of Jackson’s big rivals in the pool is fellow Everett School District member Cascade. Bruins head coach Eric Smith said there are pros and cons to having such a spectacularly large swimming team.
“I think most teams on the girls’ side are sitting in the 30-35 range,” he said. “There are some pretty huge ones. Jackson has got huge numbers, which is kind of a blessing and a curse. You get kids out which is great, and you can fill the pool. But you only have so many coaches and lanes and you run out of places to put kids.”
That’s where Taylor and McKee help. The two are the strongest swimmers on the team, and along with the seven other seniors on the squad, are looked to for veteran leadership.
“As a captain this year, I just want to lead my team and be there for all the girls,” Taylor said.
Taylor, who hopes to go to school in California and double major in psychology and criminal justice, has been swimming competitively for over five years. She says it’s a lot of work, but that’s what makes it so fulfilling.
“I love the competitive aspect,” Taylor said. “It’s a physically demanding sport. You have to give it your all every race. I just love to race.”
Her attitude has made an impression on other coaches in the area, including Smith.
“Kaitlin Taylor is just a very nice kid,” he said. “She’s very competitive, but she’s just a nice gal. You want to see her succeed. You want to root for her.”
McKee is still somewhat new to swimming. She’s been on the Jackson team for three years and has made incredible progress during that time. However she’s just as competitive as her teammate.
“I like that you can be really good friends with people on your team and the other teams, but when you get on those blocks racing, you’re trying to beat them,” McKee said. “Then you get out of the water and you’re all friends again.”
“McKee is really something special,” Smith said. “She really just started swimming seriously in high school and she’s come a very long way. She’s a great sprinter. She’s fun to watch.”
Throw in fellow senior Rachel Creary, who Whorley calls “a really important leader for our team both in the pool and out,” and there is strong leadership for a mammoth team.
“This is a fun year for us because we’ve got such a committed group of, not just seniors, but juniors as well,” Whorley said. “We’re very deep. The girls the last three years have just plugged away.”
Taylor and McKee — who are both currently going through the recruiting process with hopes to swim at D-1 schools next year — said that being on the Jackson team is a lot of fun. There are team bonding activities, which means come the actual swim meets there are no teams louder than the Timberwolves.
“We’re the most spirited at all the meets,” McKee said. “It makes the team really enjoyable.”
“Everybody wants to be a part of something this big,” Taylor said, echoing her teammate. “The girls, whether they’re club swimmers or not, they just want to be a part of this. It’s something special.”
Smith got to see that first hand when Cascade faced Jackson on Sept. 18.
“Their whole team got up at the sideline. It was like being at a Premier League soccer match,” Smith said. “They were singing and chanting. It was great. They’re just going to cheer on every girl in the pool and it’s awesome.”
Thanks to their depth, the Bruins came out on top 95-68, giving Jackson a goal for the rest of the season.
“They’re a little bit deeper than we are right now,” Whorley said. “When we get to the end of the season, we’ll see.”
McKee, Taylor, Whorley and the rest of the Jackson team is eager to return to the state tournament, where they believe they can improve on last year’s showing.
“I’m really looking forward to state,” McKee said. “Last year was really awesome and I’m hoping with the training we’ve done this year will be even better. This year we have some girls that definitely have the talent to go to state for the first time.”
Whorley said he hopes the Timberwolves can slide into the top 10 at this year’s state meet, while having everyone improve on their times from a year ago. As long as that happens, he said, everything else will fall into place.
“It’s going to sound a little fluffy, but I want them to be happy,” Whorley said. “It’s the truth. I want them to be proud of their accomplishments and proud of their team.
“It’s about improving. If we do that, points and wins will take care of themselves.”