Cougars headed for a splashy season

It was loud in the Central Kitsap School District swim pool — louder than it had been in a long time.

Central Kitsap High School freshman Sarah Baker was dueling Port Angeles’ top swimmer, Jerrah Holth, for victory in the 500-yard freestyle. And the lid was comin’ off the joint.

“It’s never been this loud in here. Never,” said junior Andria Giovanni. “It was so amazing.”

When Baker edged Holth by just 34 hundredths of a second, the Cougar swimmers erupted with glee. And with noise. They all seemed to know it was a key victory in a benchmark afternoon for their program.

“The last time we beat PA was 1993,” said veteran CK coach Patty Matthew. “The girls were fired up for this.”

And why not? The Cougars’ 104-79 victory manifested an achievement the program has been striving for since many of the current swimmers still had to don water wings before hopping in.

They did it in dominant fashion. In addition to Baker’s scalding, state-qualifying 500 time of 5 minutes, 17.28 seconds (Holth’s runner-up 5:17.62 also was a state qualifier), they won 11 of the meet’s 12 events. The only one they didn’t win, the 1-meter diving competition, they didn’t have an entrant.

“We give away 10 points right there, which is tough,” said Matthew. “But that’s where our depth comes in. We knew we had better up-front speed (than PA), but I told the girls it was going to take those second, third and fourth places to win the meet. A 2-3-4 finish beats 1-5 every time.”

Of course, those first places are nothing to turn one’s nose up at. Besides the 500, Baker also won the 200 free, Giovanni won the 50 and 100 frees, Erin Matthew (the coach’s junior daughter) took the individual medley and breaststroke, junior Ashley Heaslip the backstroke and freshman April Swaine the butterfly. The Cougs also swept the three relay races, and registered an emphatic exclamation point — not to mention demonstrating that aforementioned depth — by touching out first and second in the meet-closing 400 free relay.

Eight state-qualifying standards were bettered, as the Cougars continued to make a case that another of their season’s goals, above and beyond beating Port Angeles, is in sight.

“We’ve thought a top-10 finish at state is realistic,” Matthew said. “But with this team, if it gets going and hits everything the way it can ... who knows? This might be a top-five team.”

“There are a lot of strong swimmers. This definitely is the deepest we’ve ever been,” agreed Heaslip, who probably will hit the state qualifying standard in the backstroke before season’s end and join Erin Matthew, Giovanni, Baker and Swaine in the state Class 4A meet at the King County Aquatic Center in Federal Way in mid-November. CK also has qualified for all three relays.

Central Kitsap’s program always has been strong, fueled by the annual influx of youngsters from the Olympic Aquatic Club (OAC). The Cougs traditionally send at least one swimmer a year to state, and have mounted challenges of increasing intensity over the years to their nemesis from Port Angeles.

Their rough treatment of the Roughriders Thursday seemed symbolic that the program has reached a new, higher level.

“Last year was soooo close,” said Erin Matthew of the Cougs’ 2000 meeting with PA, holding her thumb and forefinger an inch apart. “This is the year we finally did it.”

It doesn’t appear it’ll be the last, either, with all of CK’s state qualifiers claiming at least one more year of eligibility, and OAC continuing to train legions of young swimmers to rise up and fill the ranks.

But first things first. Port Angeles has fallen, and the Cougars’ state team will be large and talented enough to contend for a top-10 point total. There’s another goal the Cougars have for this season.

“We want to see if we can go undefeated,” Patty Matthew said of the dual-meet season, which still has two weeks to go. “We have South Kitsap (Oct. 11) and then (unbeaten) Gig Harbor (Oct. 18; both are on the road). It’ll be tough.”

But the Cougars have shown this year that they’re a team that’s capable of making some noise.

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