Family ties

  • By David Pan Enterprise sports editor
  • Wednesday, October 22, 2008 11:34am


Amber and Courtney McDermott agreed that they would make the decision together.

The McDermotts, two of the top club swimmers in the area, had never been able to find the time to join the Jackson swim team. The two had thought about swimming for their high school team for awhile.

“We agreed that if one of us didn’t want to do it, the other one wasn’t going to do it,” said Courtney, a junior. “And if one of us did do it, the other one would do it.”

The McDermott sisters have always been close.

“We wanted to have the same experience,” Courtney said.

The subject of high school swimming came up again when they were in the car last summer.

“I was like, ‘I really want to do it,’” Courtney said. “And she said, ‘So do I.’ So we decided to do it.”

Though their decision led to an even more hectic schedule, the McDermotts are enjoying their first season with their classmates.

The McDermotts have been a positive addition to the Timberwolves in terms of the talent they bring to the pool and for their upbeat attitude, said Jackson coach Drew Whorley.

“Not only do they have a really cool bond together, they bring a lot of life to the team,” Whorley said. “I always talk about vibe and enthusiasm and all that stuff and how contagious it is. Both of them contribute in a positive fashion to that and they’ve been a great spark.”

Their contributions to Jackson in the pool have been significant.

Amber, who at 6 feet is about six inches taller than her older sister, already has produced state cuts in all eight individual events. It took her only five meets to accomplish this and she made the time standard in each event in her first attempt.

“We set that as a goal,” Whorley said. “It’s that versatility from the dual meet perspective that makes her such a valuable asset.”

It isn’t just that Amber is making the state cuts. The times she has produced are jaw-dropping.

An example was her time of 2:04.40 in the 200 individual medley. It is two seconds faster than what state champion Marley Prothero of Kentwood swam at the state meet last year.

Amber’s previous best time was 2:07. She and Whorley talked about trying for a 2:05, but then a friend swam a 2:04. Amber said, “Let’s go for a 2:04” and delivered.

“As talented as she is, to dive in and drop another three seconds off her best time, you just don’t see stuff like that,” Whorley said. “She’s wired the right way.”

Amber’s success actually is no surprise. Earlier this year, the Jackson sophomore competed in the 200 backstroke and the 400 individual medley at the U.S. Olympic trials. To be invited to the trials, swimmers must meet a specific time standard.

“It’s an incredible accomplishment,” Whorley said.

And perhaps a preview of what’s to come.

“It was a really great experience seeing all the Olympians swim and race and break world records,” Amber said. “It was really fun to watch them, knowing that I could maybe be there some day.”

Amber dropped almost 40 places in the 400 individual medley, ending up 39th in the rankings. Her 200 backstroke didn’t go as well, but Amber didn’t really mind.

Amber also was selected to the U.S. National Junior team, which will be attending the Junior Pan Pacifics next January in Guam. She qualified in the 400 freestyle, 800 freestyle, 1,500 freestyle and the 400 individual medley. Before heading to Guam, Amber hopes to add to her medal collection at the Class 4A state swimming championships Nov. 14-15 at the King County Aquatic Center in Federal Way.

“My events are the 200 and 500 free and the 200 IM,” Amber said. “Those are possibilities for state.”

Besides the fun and relaxed atmosphere of the high school scene, Amber also has enjoyed swimming events that she normally does not do with her club team, Salmon Bay Aquatics. The 50 freestyle and the 100 breaststroke aren’t typically her races.

“It’s fun to do different events,” Amber said.

Courtney isn’t quite as fast as her younger sister, but she also is contributing each week to the Wolfpack. Courtney has qualified for state in the 200 freestyle, 500 freestyle, 200 individual medley and the 100 butterfly. Courtney primarily is a distance swimmer as is Amber.

“Courtney is a very intellectual swimmer,” Whorley said. “She has great enthusiasm. She’s positive. … She’s extremely intuitive and really receptive to the coaching and to the feedback.”

As is the case for many siblings, the younger McDermott sought to follow in her big sister’s footsteps. The McDermotts had moved to the Northwest from North Carolina when Courtney was about 8. At the time, Courtney’s mother had trouble finding a soccer team for her.

So instead she signed Courtney up for swimming lessons. Eventually, Courtney started coming up with a lot of ribbons, which Amber noticed.

“I was into gymnastics and then my sister joined swimming and I was like I’m jealous, so I decided to swim,” Amber said. “But I wasn’t very good when I started. She was a lot faster than me and I was really angry. I enjoyed it a lot, so I stuck with it.”

Amber also was getting a little tall for gymnastics. It wasn’t long before she was towering over most of her classmates. Amber was 5-6 in the sixth grade.

While height is somewhat of an advantage in swimming, it by no means explains Amber’s success.

“You can be 6 feet tall and not be as good a swimmer as she is,” Whorley said. “She has all the intangibles. It’s fun for her. She’s extremely positive. … She doesn’t let anything really weigh her down. She takes it as it comes and has fun with it.”

Amber is similar to Jackson teammate Alana Pazevic, who is the defending state champion in the 100 freestyle.

The two share that same anything is possible, pie in the sky, let’s go see what can happen type of attitude, Whorley said.

Both McDermotts also share a dedication and passion for the sport of swimming. The two swim seven days a week, including three morning practices that start at 4:45 a.m. Neither Amber or Courtney get used to waking up at 3:45 a.m. “I never get tired of the practice itself,” Amber said. “I get tired, but I always know it’s going to pay off someday.”

Perhaps with a state championship or two next month and maybe an Olympic medal somewhere down the line.

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