Matthew King has swam in just two high school meets all season.
And yet, the Glacier Peak High School senior phenom is a heavy favorite to claim a pair of titles at the swim and dive state championships Friday and Saturday at King County Aquatic Center in Federal Way.
King enters the Class 4A state meet as the top seed by a wide margin in both the 50-yard freestyle and the 100 freestyle, with automatic All-American times in both events.
The University of Alabama signee also could break a state-meet record or two.
King’s 50 freestyle seed time of 20.02 seconds is tied with the record set in 1992 by Newport’s Ugur Taner, who went on to swim for Turkey in the 1992 Summer Olympics. King’s 100 freestyle time of 44.06 seconds is just 0.33 seconds off that event’s record, also set by Taner in 1992.
“Watching him is kind of like watching a dolphin swim,” second-year Glacier Peak coach Ron Belleza said. “… When you watch Matt, it looks easy. It just looks effortless.”
King, ranked by CollegeSwimming.com as the top overall senior recruit in the state and the No. 43 senior recruit in the nation, won state titles in both the 50 and 100 freestyle as a sophomore during his first year of high school swimming.
King said he then decided to take last high school season off to focus on club swimming.
“It’s hard, because their club coaches want their commitment there, and then at the same time we need them here,” Belleza said. “So it’s this weird juggling act.
“He had a bunch of recruitment trips to concentrate on (last year), and it just didn’t work out for us,” Belleza added. “… So I told him, ‘You know, we’re gonna be here next year. And if you can come through, we’ll be here for (you).’ And he did.”
King rejoined the Glacier Peak team on Dec. 30, according to Belleza. That’s listed by the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association as the official halfway point of the season, meaning a swimmer must be on the team roster by that date in order to be eligible for the postseason.
“I had to go to junior nationals before that,” King said, “so there was a lot of stuff going on.”
“I didn’t know if I wanted to do (high school swimming) at first,” he added. “And after a couple practices I was like, ‘You know what? This is fun. This is where I want to be.’ And so I continued to do it, and I’ve been having fun ever since.”
The WIAA requires an athlete to participate in a minimum of 10 practices before being eligible for competition. Belleza said King accumulated enough practices to be eligible for the Grizzlies’ final regular-season meet on Jan. 30. King earned his district-qualifying times during that meet, Belleza said.
“We made sure we got him in (the pool) when we had to and we followed all the numbers,” Belleza said. “Because it’s Matt, he brings a lot of attention. There will be a lot of people saying, ‘He wasn’t at this meet, he wasn’t at that meet, but here he is now.’ But we made sure he was at all the practices he had to be before he actually competed in his first meet.”
King’s second meet of the season was last week’s district championships, where he posted his blistering state seed times.
King’s 50 freestyle seed time is a whopping 1.03 seconds faster than the next-closest swimmer in the 4A state field. His 100 freestyle time is 2.02 seconds faster than any other 4A state competitor.
“I think all the magic is under the water with him,” Belleza said. “You watch him above the water, (and) he looks like a regular freestyler. But I believe everything is happening underwater with him. His walls are perfect. His underwaters are pretty spectacular to watch. And just the distance per stroke he can generate with every pull, it’s pretty amazing.”
King credited much of his success to his swimming upbringing between ages 10 and 12 in Colorado, where he lived before moving to Washington.
“We never did sets or anything,” he said. “(With) my coach in Colorado, everything was about feeling the water. It was about just doing little, tiny things with your hands and just making sure you had a really strong foundation of how water works, basically. And I feel like that has really helped me just to get to know the water and just be one with it.”
Belleza said watching King swim is like witnessing a “work of art.”
“The efficiency is there, the power is there and it’s just fun to watch,” Belleza said. “Sometimes I wish that he wasn’t a sprinter, because I enjoy watching him so much. I wish the race was a little bit longer, (because if) you blink, this boy’s done.”