Early-bird swimmers nail state berths

"Erik Henne had the whole winter to earn his second trip to the state Class 4A swimming and diving championships.Patrick Fitzgerald didn't have to be in any sort of hurry to establish himself as a force on the local swimming scene.But, hey ... why wait?Henne, a junior at Central Kitsap High School, qualified for state in the 100-meter breaststroke in a meet against Port Angeles at the Olympic High School pool on Dec. 19.Fitzgerald, an Olympic sophomore, actually beat Henne to the dance, punching his state ticket in the 100 backstroke back on Dec. 9 in just his second meet, scorching out a time of 57.7 seconds in a dual against Bainbridge. A transfer from Oahu who just moved into the OHS service area last fall, he surprised even himself by how quickly he managed to book his passage to the King County Aquatic Center in Federal Way for the state meet.I was planning on making state next year, but it happened this year, said Fitzgerald. It's a little bit of a surprise, but I'm looking forward to it. It'll be a good experience.It was all that for Henne last year, when he originally missed the state cut, but then was allocated into the field for the breaststroke. He missed the finals, which only made it easier for him to set his sights this time out.I've got a couple of goals for the breaststroke this year, said Henne, who earned his place in the state field with a 1-minute, 4.26-second clocking. I'd like to get down to about a minute, and I'd like to make the state finals.CK coach Patty Matthew, who also serves as ubercoach for the Olympic and Klahowya teams under Paul Henderson and Terry Beaudoin, respectively, said she's not surprised by the early success, but is still overjoyed by it.It's real exciting, said Matthew, who saw divers Steve Evans and Josh Gilbert join Henne as CK's - and the Central Kitsap School District's - total state contingent last year. It gets us off to a great start and shows us all the way.And we're not finished, either, added Matthew, who said she plans to take a busload of of swimmers to the West Central District meet, and possibly add another member or two to the state junket - which, assuming return appearances by Evans and Gilbert, currently numbers four.Matthew said the two divers face their first real obstacle Jan. 5 when they compete in a WCD diving qualifier at Gig Harbor.The leading candidates, both from CK, are Jared Eyer and Ty Thorsen.Jared's been a swimming buddy of mine for years, said Henne, who represents Olympic Aquatic Club, as do many of the CK-Olympic-Klahowya amalgam. I'm rooting for him, and he's got a good chance.Henne said he appreciated the unexpected chance to get in the rarified contents of the state-finals pool last year as a kind of a head start for his prep career. Like Fitzgerald, he really didn't expect to be there until he was at least a junior.It certainly helped, he said of the experience. Now I know what to expect. The atmosphere was totally different. It wasn't as laid-back as the league meets. It was the most competitive meet I've ever been in.You see guys there that do every possible thing to try and lower their times, he added. Being around swimmers, you learn things.Now it's Fitzgerald's turn to test the state waters for the first of what should be a trio of trips. A Kitsap resident as a youngster (he swam for OAC under coach Marilyn Grindrod, who also coaches the boys in a local club water polo team), he swam in both school and club competitions on Oahu.It wasn't as big as this, he says of the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA) championships set for Feb. 15-17.Knowing they both have state invitations locked up, Henne and Fitzgerald can use the rest of the dual-meet season to try and add more qualifying times in other events. Henne said he'll aim at the freestyle sprint, while Fitzgerald will take his shots at the longer freestyle events and the individual medley.The pressure's off now, since we know we're going, Fitzgerald said. We can work on some other times.The Cougars and Trojans are idle until they host Port Angeles Jan. 2 at the OHS pool, beginning at 3:30 p.m. "

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