The superlatives are used to describe the seniors, not the sophomores.
After all, winning in high-school sports starts with veteran experience. And that’s precisely what makes the South Kitsap boys swim team unusual. When coach Tami Lester-Dame describes her team and its success, it begins with the underclassmen.
Brandon Dravis, Taylor Rousell and Justin Slezak are the Wolves’ only individual state qualifiers. And they’re all sophomores.
“They’re year-round swimmers and it definitely shows,” Lester-Dame said. “The time, energy and commitment they put into swimming year-round is the reason why they’re the only ones with state-qualifying times at this point.”
Dravis became the latest of the trio to qualify on Jan. 3 when he finished the 100-yard backstroke in 56.97 seconds against Lincoln. He said that’s a little off the 56.4 he swam last year, but is confident in his ability, as well as that of Rousell and Slezak.
“I love these guys,” he said. “Last year, we were doing pretty good, but this year I definitely think we’re a lot faster, a lot stronger and our chances at state are a lot better this year.”
Rousell probably is the best-known of the trio. His older sister, Madison, won two state championships in the 50 and 100 freestyle and now is a freshman swimmer at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas.
“We really push ourselves in the water and when we’re swimming against each other,” Rousell said. “It’s kind of to tease and have fun, but also to see what we can really do.”
He also scoffs at the notion that he’s following Madison as a sprinter — a common refrain by his mother — and won’t follow her to college because “it’s too hot for me and I don’t want to go to the same school as my sister.”
It’s the short events where Rousell has made his impact, though. He said he’s improved his time in the 50 freestyle from 23.3 seconds to 22.7 — and qualified for state.
“I was so excited because the first time I swam the event this season, I was one-hundreth of a second off state time,” he said, adding that he also hopes to qualify for state in the 100 butterfly. “I was never getting past the state time, but when I finally did I couldn’t believe it.”
While Rousell has grown up competing against his sister, Justin Slezak finds his competition at South’s pool. Because all three compete for the Puget Sound Swim Club in addition to the Wolves, he said he spends a lot of time with his classmates. After four hours of practice — two for the high school followed by two for club — he said they often get together to play video games.
But the bragging starts at the pool, rather than the games, though.
“I try and beat them when I practice with them,” he said. “I’m always with these guys so it’s nice.”
Slezak, who has qualified for state in the 100 breaststroke, wants to place in the top 10 at the state meet in that event and qualify for the 200 individual medley. The goals don’t end there.
“I want to get good grades so I can get into a good college and swim there,” he said.
Meanwhile, Dravis is eyeing the records on the wall at the pool. “I’m hoping we can get one of the school records for our relays” before graduation.
That commitment to excellence has impressed Lester-Dame.
“They’re driven and it’s unusual to have the commitment they do and for as long as they’ve had it,” she said, adding that she expects all three to swim at the next level. “It’s very common for kids to specialize early and get burned out by the time they get to high-school age.”
It’s just another way the superlative sophomores are different.