By AARON MANAGHAN
FEDERAL WAY — After a dominating performance during Friday’s preliminaries, Central Kitsap senior Seth Parker figured to have the 100-yard freestyle in the bag.
But as tends to happen come the state postseason, things don’t always go just as planned.
During Friday’s prelims at the King County Aquatic Center, Parker blew the field away with a time of 47.25 seconds, finishing nearly a full second ahead of Wilson’s Jake Kaija and Decatur’s Tom Cunningham at the 4A WIAA State Boys Swim & Dive Championships.
“He was very excited for Saturday,” CK coach Steve LaHaie said of Parker following his prelim performance. “His 100 free race was a very exciting race.”
Saturday’s final was even better.
Parker set a new school record with a time of 46.9, narrowly edging Cunningham’s 47.03, to win the state 100 free title, becoming the first Cougar to win the event.
“Cunningham, he showed up,” LaHaie said. “(The difference) wasn’t much. A fingertip. It was a little nerve-racking.”
“I was really relieved,” Parker said of his initial reaction to winning the race. “The guy who I was swimming against, Tom Cunningham, he scared me a little bit in that first 50. I really had to push it on the last 50.”
The race showed once again why nothing at state is proven until the end.
“I wasn’t expecting it to be so close,” LaHaie said. “After Friday, we figured we were good by a second. That’s what makes it fun.”
Parker followed up the title-winning performance with a second-place finish in the 100 breaststroke, the second-consecutive year he’s taken a silver behind Snohomish’s Garren Riechel, with both swimmers shaving more than a full second off their prelim times. Riechel won with a 56.06, setting a new meet record, while Parker finished in 57.02, 1.69 seconds faster than his prelim time.
“That was an exciting race too,” LaHaie said. “After the third turn, they were neck and neck. It was the last 20 yards where Riechel pulled away from him. It was definitely a good race.”
“That was pretty intense because I hadn’t really dropped time as much (during the season),” Parker said. “And considering I’ve never actually beaten Garren in the 100 breast in club or high school, I knew I probably wouldn’t get first. But it really motivated me to do my best and get my best time.”
The races helped provide CK with 37 team points, landing the Cougars in 23rd place in the meet Snohomish won with 247.
LaHaie said even after the weekend he’s still reeling from the close races.
“That was an exciting weekend,” he said. “I don’t know what to say. It’s like, ‘Wow.’”
With the 100 free crown, Parker becomes the first CK boys swimmer to win state since 1995, when both Adam Matthew and Adrian Haydu accomplished the feat. And while joining the ranks of CK’s elite swimmers is nice, Parker said reaching his own goals was most satisfying.
“It’s pretty exciting,” Parker said. “I got it taken care of, just knowing I achieved my goal for my high school season.”
The win was even more special for Parker as he had more support with him this year in the form of the 200 medley relay, which included Parker, seniors Kyle Bonnell and Joe Phillips and freshman Tyler Hirata.
“That was huge,” LaHaie said of even qualifying. “At first they didn’t know. The guys came to practice not knowing.”
But a week before state, the team did know the relay would advance. A 1:46.9 time landed CK in 19th place overall.
“It was a lot of excitement from all the guys,” Parker said. “We really wanted the relay to go. It’s always more fun when there’s more guys.”
And for CK’s three seniors, fun was what it was all about.
“It was about just going, spending time with the guys,” Parker said. “We’re taking it seriously, but it’s the last one. You want to have fun. At the same time, you have to keep your eye on the goal you have had your entire high school career.”
As a coach, LaHaie said he was just happy to be involved in the whole experience.
“Oh man, it’s so cool,” he said. “I feel just awesome to be a part of it. But it didn’t come easy, that’s for sure. A lot of hard work went into that.”
As far as Parker’s title, LaHaie said they did a better job of tapering Parker’s swims prior to the big meet.
“I think we tapered well this year,” he said. “Better than last year. You just never know how people will react to it.”
But Parker said the main motivation was simply that it was his final shot.
“Oh yeah,” Parker said. “Ninth grade and 10th grade, you can always say, ‘Oh, I’ve got a couple more years.’ This year, there’s not going to be another chance to swim at state. I just had to push, push, push.”
With Parker graduating this spring, he hopes to continue his collegiate swimming career. Just where exactly remains to be seen. He said he hopes to swim for the Unviersity of Washington, but has also looked at Oakland University (Rochester, Mich.) and Seattle University.
“It’s kind of something I’ve been working toward my whole life,” he said.
And now he’ll have some strong memories to bring with him, as LaHaie pointed out.
“There’s only one guy a year that gets (a state title),” he said. “Only one out of however many are trying. That’s a huge honor.”
With the state meet officially ending the season, LaHaie said there’s a lot about Parker he’ll miss.
“Obviously, winning all those events,” he said. “We’re gonna miss that.”
But as a whole, LaHaie said the dynamic without the senior class will be very different next season.
“They’re a fun group of guys,” he said. “If you’ve been by the pool a few times, you know they’re not quiet. They’re out to have a good time. It’s gonna be a different crowd next year. As they put it, it’s gonna be boring without them. It’s not going to be boring, but we’ll see who steps up here.”
And while the school records are nice, Parker said he looks forward to seeing who of the next generation of CK swimmers will be next to break them.
“It’s a good feeling knowing that records were set,” he said. “We’ll see how long they last.”
Olympic sophomore Colton Kohnke led the Trojans this weekend at the 3A WIAA State Boys Swim & Dive Championships, also at the King County Aquatic Center, placing 17th in the 500 free with a time of 5:08.72 and 21st in the 200 free with a time of 1:54.93.
Fellow sophomore John Wojtech claimed 23rd in both the 200 IM, swimming a time of 2:11.85, and in the 100 breast, thanks to a time of 1:07.03.
The Trojans’ 200 free relay, consisting of Wojtech, Kohnke, Jacob Nord and Tyler Bass, took 21st with a time of 1:37.03.