FEDERAL WAY — The Jackson High School boys swim and dive program has had a lot of strong teams over the years.
None of them ever finished as high as this one did at state.
With a balanced effort that included seven state medals, the Timberwolves made program history by capturing a third-place team trophy at the Class 4A state championships Saturday night at King County Aquatic Center.
Jackson racked up with 168 points, beating Skyline by 14 points for third place. Curtis edged Newport to win the state championship with 292 points.
The Timberwolves’ previous best state finish was fourth place in 2017, when current Stanford University swimmer Jon Cook led the way with a record-setting meet.
“I’m just incredibly proud of them,” longtime Jackson coach Drew Whorley said. “When you look back at some of the success and some of the individuals that were part of those (previous) teams, I mean, there’s some pretty remarkable names and some pretty remarkable accomplishments. … This is a lofty achievement.”
Especially considering the adversity the Timberwolves dealt with last month.
Due to COVID-19 protocols, Jackson’s training was severely impacted in January. And in a sport like swimming that’s so training-dependent, missing pool time at that stage of the season presented an enormous challenge.
“Between sickness and facility restrictions because of people that were getting sick at practice, no one had a full January,” Whorley said. “We had one athlete that got three weeks in. And beyond that, everybody else missed some extended portion of that.
“To be able to put it together (by) districts — to put ourselves in this situation to come in here and do this — this is one of the scrappiest, toughest teams I’ve ever had the pleasure of coaching,” he added. “They swam that way (and) they performed that way. They’re so resilient, and I’m just really proud of them.”
The Timberwolves finished with three top-four relay medals and four top-six individual medals.
Jackson’s relay success was particularly important. Instead of loading their talent into two relays, the Timberwolves decided to spread out their top swimmers among the three relays.
It all worked according to plan, with Jackson amassing 94 points from its relays.
“These guys made a lot of individual sacrifices so that we could focus on relays,” Whorley said. “… We talked about putting three relays in the top five. And we (did).”
Jackson claimed a third-place medal in the 400-yard freestyle relay with a time of 3 minutes, 12.00 seconds. The Timberwolves’ team of senior Braden Thompson, senior Jensen Elsemore, sophomore Ethan Georgiev and senior Alex Georgiev finished 5.55 seconds behind state champion Curtis, which broke the 4A state meet record.
Jackson also earned a third-place medal in the 200 medley relay, posting a time of 1:36.98. Thompson, Alex Georgiev, sophomore Ethan Chen-Parks and Ethan Georgiev finished 3.92 seconds behind state champion Newport, which set the 4A state meet record.
And Jackson’s 200 freestyle relay team placed fourth in 1:28.40. Chen-Parks, Elsemore, Thompson and Ethan Georgiev finished 5.17 seconds behind state champion Curtis, which shattered the overall state meet record.
Some of the Timberwolves’ swimmers didn’t perform as well in their individual events as they’d hoped, according to Whorley. But he praised those swimmers for staying dialed into the relay events.
“Even though some of those individual performances weren’t quite what they were hoping for, they weren’t negatively impacting the team goal,” Whorley said. “So to be able to park that stuff and compartmentalize it and get back focused on investing in our teammates and helping them, … it’s a very mature way to navigate.”
Elsemore claimed a pair of individual medals, giving him four top-10 state finishes in his prep career. He took second place in the 200 freestyle with a time of 1:44.13, finishing 3.83 seconds behind state champion Curtis senior Patrick Keough. And he placed sixth in the 100 freestyle at 47.51 seconds.
Elsemore said his 200 freestyle runner-up finish was a nice bit of redemption from two years ago, when he had an “unfortunate bad swim” in preliminaries that cost him a medal.
“It just felt nice to finally finish somewhere in the top,” Elsemore said.
Alex Georgiev, who entered the state meet seeded No. 2 in the 100 butterfly, suffered a major disappointment Friday when he was disqualified in that event’s preliminaries. But he shook it off and rebounded with a third-place medal in the 50 freestyle, posting a time of 20.92 seconds. He finished 0.46 seconds behind state champion Curtis sophomore Tolu Young in that event and came within 0.01 seconds of an All-American consideration time.
Thompson added a sixth-place medal in the 200 freestyle with a time of 1:49.21.
“These guys really have a tight bond and there’s a lot of joy in the pool watching them,” Whorley said. “Sometimes as a coach, it’s teenage guys and you’re rolling your eyes a little bit. But after everything that we’ve been through, … to watch the fun that they were having and being optimistic that they could lead to something like this, it was a real joy to be on that ride.”
LAKE STEVENS DIVER TAKES 2ND
Jaden Cardona’s top-tier diving talent has been on display throughout the entirety of his high school career.
But the Lake Stevens senior may have saved his very best performance for last.
Cardona captured his second career state medal, placing second in the 4A diving competition Thursday with a strong 428.35-point showing. He finished behind Issaquah senior Robert Gref, who racked up 475.60 points to claim his second consecutive state title.
“I was really aiming for first, because I worked really hard to get better this year,” Cardona said. “But I am really happy with my second place, because I’m pretty sure that was the best meet I’ve had all season — and maybe throughout my entire high school career.
“Usually in meets like this,” he added, “I would’ve messed up maybe like one or two dives, just because they’re harder. This meet, I didn’t really mess up any dives at all. I did the best I possibly could’ve done.”
Cardona and Gref distanced themselves from the rest of the divers at state. No other diver in any of the three competitions — 4A, 3A or 2A — reached 375 points.
Cardona, a University of South Dakota signee, scored 90.95 more points than the 3A state champion and 117.4 more points than the 2A state champion.
“It was probably one of his best performances I’ve ever seen him do,” Lake Stevens dive coach Rachel McCoy said. “… Just really solid, clean dives. He was on.”
It was the third top-12 state finish for Cardona, who placed 11th as a freshman and fifth as a sophomore.
And after posting 342.10 and 349 points in his first two state competitions, he improved his state scoring by nearly 80 points from sophomore to senior year.
Cardona credited his improvement to attending last summer’s RipFest Diving Camp in Indiana, where he learned a lot of new techniques.
“They teach you a lot of stuff that most dive coaches don’t even know,” he said. “And ever since I went there, I was just way better at diving. And with the goal of getting onto a college team, that made me want to try even harder. And I got way better with every practice.”
Cardona has been diving ever since he was age 8 or 9.
“When I was on the swim team at a local pool, I looked over and I saw the divers practicing in the other pool,” he said. “And I told (my mom), ‘Hey, I want to try that out.’ And then it kind of just went from there.”
And thanks to years of dedication to his craft — including busy winter days with 5:30 a.m. practice at the high school and evening training in Federal Way — Cardona will continue his diving career at the Division I level in college.
“It’s his hard work that’s got him to where he is at,” McCoy said. “And I can’t wait to see what he does in the future.”
LAKE STEVENS JUNIOR CLAIMS 2 MEDALS
Lake Stevens junior Garrett Chesley earned a pair of 4A medals. He placed sixth in the 100 backstroke (53.50) and eighth in the 100 butterfly (53.54).
Led by Cardona and Chesley, the Vikings placed 11th in the 4A team standings with 72 points.
GETCHELL DIVER PLACES 5TH
Marysville Getchell junior Nate Huh-Orrantia claimed a fifth-place medal in the 3A diving competition Thursday with 273.65 points.
Through the first eight rounds, Huh-Orrantia was sitting in 11th place. But over the final three rounds, he surged past a tightly packed group of divers to move up six spots and onto the podium.
Huh-Orrantia was the only local 3A individual or relay team to reach the podium.
Shorecrest was the top local team in the 3A team standings, tying for 18 place with 34 points.
BROTHERS LEAD MURPHY TO SOLID SHOWING
It was a special day for the Wold brothers.
And their performances helped propel Archbishop Murphy to a good showing in the 2A meet.
The Wold brothers each claimed an individual medal, with senior Philip Wold taking seventh place in the 100 breaststroke (1:01.83) and freshman Evan Wold placing seventh in the 100 butterfly (56.62).
And they also were part of two relay teams that reached the podium.
The Wildcats’ 200 freestyle relay team of senior Kirk Shelton, Evan Wold, Philip Wold and senior Mitchell Abramson took fifth place with a time of 1:34.92.
And their 200 medley relay team of Philip Wold, Evan Wold, sophomore Hayden Burgess and Abramson placed seventh in 1:46.66.
“It was nice having my final year in high school be on the podium,” Philip Wold said. “And it’s (my brother’s) first time in high school and he was also on the podium. So it was a good bonding experience.”
Archbishop Murphy finished 10th in the 2A team standings with 95 points. It was the Wildcats’ best state placing since a sixth-place finish in 2017.
“We had a fantastic state championship meet,” Archbishop Murphy coach Erin Edmondson said. “It was really good. And the progression from prelims into finals (with) some better times and better placings, they really did well. … It was exciting. We had a talented group of kids.”
OTHER LOCAL MEDALISTS
Glacier Peak sophomore Kaiu Taylor rounded out the collection of local medalists, placing eighth in the 4A 50 freestyle with a time of 22.20 seconds.
This story will be updated with video highlights.