Cougars make a splash at state

When you get to the state swimming and diving finals, you might as well enjoy the moment.

Nobody, it seemed, did a better job of that than the loose bunch from Central Kitsap.

The Cougars — who danced, pranced, pumped their arms and whooped and hollered all night when they weren’t in the King County Aquatic Center pool — couldn’t have scripted a better finish at Saturday’s Class 4A state championships.

The Cougars put up career swim after career swim while placing fifth in the 45-team competition with 145 points, just two back of fourth-place Roosevelt. It was the best finish in school history for the girls team, surpassing the eighth-place finish of the 1993 team.

Central capped the night with a third-place finish in the 400-yard freestyle relay (3:37.94), knocking four seconds of their previous best with an All-American consideration time.

That was just minutes after the Cougars Erin Matthew had placed fourth in the 100-yard breaststroke.

In between, Erin Matthew presented the Washington Interscholastic Swimming Coaches Association “Coach of the Year” award to her mother — Central Kitsap coach Patti Matthew.

“This means a lot, coming from my peers and having my daughter present it,” Patti Matthew said. “It’s just a little icing on the cake. This is the end of a great year. The girls have been wonderful.”

At the beginning of the year, Patti Matthew thought a top-10 finish at state was possible.

“But once the season started and I started looking at it, I felt top five was realistic,” she said.

Especially after the Cougars qualified all three relays for state.

“We’ve never had all the relays in the Big Eight,” Patti Matthew said. “That was another goal.”

Andria Giovanni, April Swaine, Sarah Baker and Erin Matthew comprised the third-place 400 free relay.

The 200-yard medley relay, consisting of Ashley Heaslip, Matthew, Nicole Santos and Swaine, placed seventh (1:56.08).

The 200 freestyle relay (Giovanni, Heaslip, Swain and Baker) was sixth (1:43.07).

Giovanni, Matthew and Heaslip are juniors. Santos is a sophomore. Swaine and Baker are freshmen.

Baker (11th, 200 free; 13th, 500 free), Swaine (14th, 100 free), Heaslip (12th, 100 back) and Matthew (13th, 200 IM, 2:12.87) all added valuable points for the Cougars.

Giovanni, the most animated of the Cougars, got Central rolling with her fast 50 free (24.87). It was obvious Giovanni was enjoying the moment. Before the race, she pumped her arm in the direction of the stands where a contingent of Cougar fans were cheering her on.

“I don’t know what happened,” Giovanni said. “I was really nervous after warmups, but the nerves went away as I was walking in.”

Giovanni swam her previous best (24.98) the day before in the prelims.

“To drop a tenth (of a second) in a day, that was kind of cool,” said Giovanni. “And I was eighth at state last year so it was good to move up.”

Giovanni dropped nearly a second in the 100 free. She qualified with a 54.68 in the prelims, and swam 53.93 in the finals. Giovanni placed eighth in the event as a sophomore, so she moved up two spots in the event.

“That means a lot to me,” Giovanni said. “To be able to move up in such a great heat of girls. I was kind of intimidated before, but now I feel like I belong.”

Erin Matthew looked like she belonged in the Australian wilderness, wearing an orange Outback-style hat when she wasn’t in the pool.

With her mom waving her on from the coaches’ table, Matthew posted an all-American consideration time of 1:06.35 in the 100 breaststroke. That was almost 1.5 seconds better than her previous best.

“That was my goal coming in,” Erin Matthew said. “I wanted to be in the top five and swim 1:06 or 1:07. It’s such a good feeling. And to have our team do so well, it makes it all the better.”

Only the top four teams hauled trophies back to their respective schools.

“That’s OK,” Patti Matthew said. “I’m OK with that. The recognition is still there. These girls know what they’ve accomplished.”

Matthew gave her swimmers all of the credit.

“My coaching finished the other day,” she said. “It’s up to them once they get here. Even during the season, you write the workout sheets, and implement the workouts, but they’re the ones who have to do the work. They know what it takes to get here.”

All the hard work was worth it.

“I can’t believe it all paid off,” Giovanni said. “Look at us. There’s only six of us and we’re in the top five at state. If I could walk on water, I think I’d be doing it right now.”

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