The Lake Stevens High School girls swim team has traveled approximately 2,000 miles on a school bus this season.
That’s roughly the equivalent of the distance from Lake Stevens to Chicago.
With their on-campus pool undergoing construction as part of their high school’s remodel, the Vikings have operated exclusively on the road this fall. It’s meant countless hours packed onto a school bus, battling traffic for practices in south Everett and meets across Snohomish County.
It’s also meant a lot of “karaoke parties,” as one swimmer described. To liven up those long bus rides, the Vikings have showed off their singing voices, belting out lyrics to songs from Taylor Swift and other popular artists.
“I don’t think our coach will ever want to listen to (Taylor Swift) again after this season,” Lake Stevens senior Grace Brown said with a laugh.
The Vikings have made the most of a difficult travel schedule this season.
Because of the area’s limited pool availability, the closest pool they could book for practice was the one at Explorer Middle School in south Everett, near the Boeing Co. plant. It equates to a nearly 35-mile round-trip commute that sometimes totals nearly two hours.
The Lake Stevens team leaves the high school at about 2:25 p.m. The bus then stops by Cavelero Mid High to pick up the team’s freshmen swimmers before heading to Explorer Middle School, where it typically arrives around 3:10 p.m.
The Vikings practice until 5 p.m., then have 10 minutes to change before boarding the bus again. The trip back can be particularly time-consuming, with it being during evening rush-hour Boeing traffic. They often don’t return to the high school until after 6 p.m., or sometimes even later.
“They’ve had to have a lot of perseverance,” longtime Lake Stevens head coach Sarah Summers said. “… The girls have almost made it a badge of honor — that we’re going to still be successful, we’re still going to win, even though we have this obstacle, so to speak, in front of us.”
Despite the challenging travel logistics, the Vikings have posted another success-filled campaign. Lake Stevens claimed its fifth Wesco North title in six years, finishing the regular season with a 10-0 record in league dual meets.
“I’ve just been really proud of the fact that (even though) they’re tired, they show up every day (and) give me everything they have,” Summers said. “And a coach can’t ask for more than that. That’s what really makes me happy is watching them work through this.”
While the Vikings’ travel schedule has been exhausting at times, they’ve found ways to embrace and make the most of it.
In addition to swimmers singing Taylor Swift songs, the coaches have used the opportunity to teach their athletes about cities such as Chicago, Minneapolis and Lincoln, Nebraska — each of which represents how many total miles they’ve logged this season.
“We have a history teacher and a science teacher as coaches, so we do little lessons every week about how far across the country we’re going,” Summers said. “… We’re kind of trying to make it fun for the girls.”
Coaches and swimmers both said the bus rides have resulted in a tighter-knit team.
“I’m personally closer with the (junior-varsity) kids than I was in previous years — and even closer with the kids in my lane, just because we spent so much time together,” Lake Stevens senior Cheyenne Kreide said.
“It’s brought us closer together, more than anything,” Brown added.
Over the years, other high school swim teams in the area have faced similar logistical challenges.
After their home pool shut down in 2010, the Stanwood boys and girls teams spent five seasons practicing at the Marysville YMCA. With the Spartans needing to fund their own transportation, the community helped them raise $15,000 per year to travel to and from Marysville. The Spartans now swim at the Stanwood-Camano YMCA, which opened in 2016.
Another example was the Snohomish and Glacier Peak teams, who were left without homes after Hal Moe Pool in Snohomish shut down in 2007. Before the state-of-the-art Snohomish Aquatic Center opened in 2014, the Panthers had to battle traffic while commuting to and from practice at places such as Gold’s Gym in Woodinville.
After a suspected arson attempt at its home pool over a decade ago, the Cascade boys team spent a season at WEST Coast Aquatics in Mill Creek.
Monroe’s teams, meanwhile, hold some of their practices at Snohomish Aquatic Center and hit the road for all of their meets.
And then there are South Whidbey’s swimmers, who for the past five seasons have been part of a co-op program with Kamiak. Their commute to and from practice involves a combination of riding a ferry, catching a bus and walking the remaining few blocks to Kamiak — and then doing the reverse on their way back home. This year, there are a record six South Whidbey swimmers in the program.
“It’s a huge commitment, and they are impressive,” Kamiak coach Chris Erickson said. “… They rarely miss.”
Summers said she was concerned the travel logistics would cause a decrease in participation this year. But her Lake Stevens team still had a strong turnout, finishing the regular season with 41 swimmers. She said that in addition to her swimmers’ dedication, the district providing transportation was a major factor.
“Without their support getting my team here, my numbers would have really been affected,” Summers said. “So they’ve been fantastic.”
Lake Stevens even has two divers this season, despite them having to rise well before the crack of dawn. The divers have to be at the high school by 4:45 a.m. to catch a district-provided van, which takes them to Forest Park Swim Center in Everett for practice before school.
“That’s tremendous commitment on their part,” Summers said. “That’s just a huge commitment.”
Lake Stevens’ new pool is scheduled to be completed by January, which would allow the Vikings’ boys team to use it for the second half of its season.
The Lake Stevens girls won’t have the luxury of experiencing the new pool until next year, but they never used the lack of home this season as an excuse.
“They’re just such a great group of kids,” Vikings assistant coach Brady Dykgraaf said. “… It would be really easy for them to just kind of be, ‘Boo-ho us. We don’t have a pool. I’m not doing this.’ And they’ve just gone the opposite way with it in every way, shape and form.
“They show up and have such a great attitude,” he added. “They’re singing on the bus, they’re rocking and rolling, they have ridiculous attendance and they’re swimming really fast.”