MUKILTEO — The Kamiak girls swim team made history last year with a Class 4A state-meet record in the 200-yard freestyle relay.
And despite losing two seniors from that record-setting relay squad, the Knights are in position to challenge last season’s historic time.
“We have a great possibility to get a new school record,” Kamiak coach Chris Erickson said. “But we’ll see what happens.”
The 200 freestyle relay team is part of a talented Kamiak squad that enters this weekend’s state swim and dive championships as one of the favorites to earn a top-four team trophy in the 4A classification.
The Knights qualified three relay teams and four individuals for the 4A state meet, which takes place Friday and Saturday at King County Aquatic Center in Federal Way.
Kamiak is coming off a dominant performance in last Saturday’s 4A Northwest District championships, claiming the title by finishing 95 points ahead of perennial powerhouse Jackson.
“We’ve got 20 kids, and every single one advanced to (the district) finals,” Erickson said. “That’s pretty special.”
Kamiak’s 200 freestyle and 200 medley relay teams each own the second-fastest 4A times in the state this season after setting district-meet records last week.
And all four of the Knights’ individual qualifiers are ranked in the top 10 of their respective events, led by a pair of multi-event individual standouts in sophomore Elli Straume and freshman Ava Collinge.
“It’s about team depth and team support,” Erickson said. “They all work really hard. It’s just really impressive what (this) team is able to do.”
Kamiak lost Stina Seaberg and Angeline Dovinh to graduation from last year’s record-setting 200 freestyle relay team, but returned Straume and junior Song-Nhi Vo.
Collinge and sophomore Grace Hatscher — a Cedar Park Christian-Bothell student who competes for the Knights because her school doesn’t have a swim team — have filled the two voids and helped the relay team continue to churn out elite times.
The team’s district-record time of 1 minute, 38.16 seconds is nearly 1.5 seconds behind top-ranked Newport, but just 0.42 seconds behind Kamiak’s record-setting time last year.
“Ava coming in as a freshman is the biggest piece,” Erickson said of the relay team’s continued success. “And last year, we would’ve used Grace if we needed her, (but) we didn’t. Well, this year we do. And she’s stepped up and done a great job.”
One difference with this year’s relay strategy is that Kamiak has shifted focus from the 400 freestyle relay to the 200 medley relay.
The Knights’ 400 freestyle relay team placed fifth in state last year, but the addition of Collinge, a butterfly swimmer, allowed Kamiak to form a medley relay team that’s ranked second in the state. Vo swims the backstroke leg, Hatscher follows with the breastsroke, Collinge does the butterfly and Straume closes with the freestyle.
“Our strengths were the freestyle (races) last year, so we went with them,” Erickson said. “This year, our strengths are different. One person makes that difference. The stars align a different way, and all of a sudden you have a great medley relay.”
In addition to anchoring both of the Knights’ top relay teams, Straume enters state ranked third in both the 100 freestyle and 200 freestyle. Straume’s top 100 freestyle time of 51.56 seconds is nearly one second faster than what she swam last year when she earned a third-place state medal as a freshman.
“She’s really done some pretty amazing things,” Erickson said. “She’s in an elite category. There’s other sophomores and freshman out there that are right up there with her, but she’s one of few.
“The better you are and more efficient you are, the more you make it look easy,” he added. “And she makes it look easy.”
Collinge enters state ranked fourth in the 100 butterfly and sixth in the 50 freestyle. The freshman standout learned the butterfly — often considered swimming’s most difficult stroke — by default as a youth.
“When I first started learning the strokes, I didn’t understand breaststroke, so they decided to make a 5-year-old swim (the) butterfly,” Collinge said. “And for some reason, I just understood how to do it. It just works for me.”
Vo is ranked ninth in the 50 freestyle with a time of 24.60 seconds. She will be making her third state appearance after placing 14th in the event last year and 10th as a freshman.
Erickson said consistency has been her biggest improvement over the past year or two.
“Now she can pull out (24 seconds) nearly any time,” Erickson said. “I think she has more 24s (than anyone) in Kamiak history. She doesn’t have the school record, but she’s been more consistent.”
Kamiak’s team also includes one of the state’s top divers in senior Naomi Bingham, who is ranked fourth in 4A.
Bingham is a year-round gymnast who began diving as a freshman after encouragement from her gymnastics coach. She quickly found success, placing 16th in state as a sophomore and seventh last year.
“(Gymnastics) helps a lot because of all the flipping,” Bingham said. “I had a head start because I already knew how to flip and had air awareness.
“But it was difficult learning how to land headfirst,” she added, “because in gymnastics you don’t want to land headfirst.”
Rounding out Kamiak’s state qualifiers is the 400 freestyle relay team. Erickson said Vo, Hatscher, senior Taylor Funk and freshman Paige Stinson likely will comprise that team at state.
In all, four of the seven Knights slated to compete at state are underclassmen.
“We just keep getting in more talent,” Kamiak senior relay alternate Ally de la Cruz said. “When our seniors are leaving, we’re getting in just as much talent.”
“It’s cool to know that we still have so much talent coming (up),” Funk added. “We’re getting faster and faster every year.”