With the sheer amount of talent that’s come through the Kamiak High School girls swim and dive program over the years, it’s a particularly difficult feat to earn a spot on the record board that hangs on the wall above the Knights’ on-campus pool.
And yet, Elli Straume’s name is all over it.
The Kamiak senior standout’s name appears four times in large purple font, signifying the four individual school records she holds. And her name appears three more times in smaller font for the trio of record-breaking relay teams of which she’s been a part.
Straume’s overwhelming presence on the record board is emblematic of her decorated and impactful career at Kamiak, which she hopes to cap with another strong performance at the Class 4A state championship meet Friday and Saturday at King County Aquatic Center in Federal Way.
“She’ll be missed for sure, and not just her times,” Knights coach Chris Erickson said.
Straume, a recent Arizona State University signee, reached the state podium the maximum 12 times over the first three years of her high school career.
She’s captured six individual state medals, including four top-three finishes in freestyle events. Each of the past two years, she claimed second-place state medals in the 200-yard freestyle.
Straume also anchored Kamiak to six relay state medals, including a state title and 4A state-meet record-breaking time in the 200 freestyle relay as a freshman. She said those moments on the state podium with her relay teammates are more rewarding than any individual accomplishment.
“My favorite part in swimming is the team environment and being up there with your team,” Straume said. “You’re like, ‘Wow, we did it. We made it.’ … That’s the most rewarding part.”
Straume began swimming at around age 5 and developed a strong passion for the sport.
“I love how much you can push yourself physically and mentally, because it’s such a draining sport,” she said. “It really pushes you to your max. I think that’s really cool.
“I just love that it’s just so detailed and you have to really put in the effort to see the results,” she added. “… You have to really work for it.”
Straume said she was inspired by her older sister, Ingrid, who also was a standout swimmer for the Knights. Ingrid, a 2015 Kamiak graduate, went on to swim for Pacific Lutheran University. During her older sister’s high school meets, Straume would stand behind the blocks and time her.
“I looked up to her,” Straume said. “I was like, ‘She’s so fast.’ … That was really inspiring, so she just kind of pushed me every day.”
Straume made an immediate impact as a freshman, earning a third-place state medal in the 100 freestyle and a seventh-place state medal in the 200 individual medley.
She also contributed to a pair of relay state medals, with the highlight coming in the 200 freestyle relay. She swam a speedy anchor leg and touched the wall just 0.27 seconds ahead of runner-up Wenatchee, giving Kamiak the 4A state title in a record time of 1 minute, 37.74 seconds.
“That was just a really exciting experience,” Straume said. “I looked at the board and we were first, and I turned around and (my teammates) were screaming. … That was crazy.”
After swimming a wider variety of strokes as a freshman, Straume began focusing more on the freestyle events as her high school career progressed.
She continued her state success as a sophomore, placing second in the 200 freestyle and fourth in the 100 freestyle. She also anchored the Knights to second- and third-place state relay finishes.
Straume then added to her medal collection last year as a junior, despite battling sickness during the state meet.
“I was super sick,” she said. “I got the stomach flu or something, and that was definitely my biggest challenge in high school swimming.”
Straume, however, certainly didn’t show any ill effects.
After anchoring Kamiak to a seventh-place finish in the 200 medley relay, she bounced back to swim in the very next event, placing second in the 200 freestyle with a scorching time of 1:49.24. That ranked 69th in the nation among high school girls last season, earning her All-American honors.
Straume also swam back-to-back events later in the meet, once again showing no signs of the sickness she was battling. She placed third in the grueling 500 freestyle, then came right back to anchor the Knights to a second-place finish in the 200 freestyle relay, helping them post the third-fastest time in 4A state-meet history.
“I had to step up for my relay,” she said. “I wasn’t going to let my relay down, so I had to give it everything I had in that moment.”
During the first three years of her high school career, Straume was surrounded by a deep array of talent that propelled Kamiak to three consecutive top-seven team finishes at the 4A state meet. It’s been a different dynamic with not as much team depth this season, but Straume has risen to the occasion by taking on an increased leadership role.
“She’s been an important part of the group over the years,” Erickson said. “But this year, she’s been an incredible key cog. I mean, it’s a whole different thing. She’s had to pull people up. … She’s been an excellent teammate and an awesome captain.
“(Sometimes) you can just get into your own zone and kind of tune everybody else out, but she’s always aware of everybody else and supportive,” he added. “That’s probably the number-one thing.”
Straume, the seventh-ranked overall senior girls recruit in the state according to CollegeSwimming.com, signed her national letter of intent Wednesday to continue her swim career at Arizona State.
“I visited ASU when I was like 6 years old and I fell in love with the school,” said Straume, who has a cousin who attended Arizona State. “… I wanted to swim in a Pac-12 school. That was always my goal. I didn’t know if I was good enough, so I did some research on the times I would need, and I pushed myself every day.”
Straume said a major draw was Arizona State’s 2015 hiring of head coach Bob Bowman, who was the longtime coach of record-breaking Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps. She also said the school’s engineering program and the team environment she experienced during a recruiting visit were factors in her decision.
“It’s pretty crazy,” she said of signing to Arizona State. “It was always my number-one goal. Swimming has been a big part of my life since I was 5 years old, so to sign with a Pac-12 school, it’s really surreal.”
But before turning her attention to college, Straume looks to add to her state medal collection. She enters the state meet seeded fourth in the 200 freestyle and fifth in the 100 freestyle. She’s also slated to swim on a pair of relay teams.
“I just want to give it everything I have (and) swim one last time for Kamiak,” Straume said. “So I’m really excited.”