FEDERAL WAY — The amount of swimming talent that has passed through the halls of Kitsap schools over the past few years is likely unprecedented.
State championships, state records and swimmers qualifying for the U.S. Olympic Time Trials has become something of a norm around here. But with swimmers such as Tim Gallagher, Kevin Houseman and Eleanor Beers no longer suiting up for their high school teams it’s up to the next generation of swimmers to carry the torch for Kitsap.
One of those younger swimmers leading the way is Kingston sophomore Rocco Velie, already a two-time Ironman, which means he has twice qualified for the 2A state meet in every single individual event. Velie is the first freshman in program history to accomplish this feat.
And he got the chance to spend that freshman year with some of the best swimmers in program history, such as Gallagher, Ethan Fox and Aron Markow. Even though he already knew some of his teammates well from his club team, high school swimming has a more team-oriented feel.
“They gave me a lot of drive for this season,” Velie said following the team’s last regular season meet against North Kitsap. “Because now that they’re gone, someone has to be the guy everyone looks up to you. I want to be that guy.”
After finishing fourth in the 200-yard individual medley and fifth in the 500-yard freestyle as a freshman, Velie turned in significant drops at this year’s 2A state meet.
He swam the 200 IM again and placed third. He was leading the event after the first 50 yards, the butterfly portion of the medley, but lost too much ground on the backstroke to Jarod Schahrer of Sammamish, which he noted is his weakest stroke. Velie nearly fought his way back into second place, but came up just six one-hundredths of a second shy of silver.
Velie also took part in one of the best races of the meet — the 100-yard butterfly in which the top four spots were separated by less than six one-hundredths of a second. Velie, Ryan Burchell of Olympic, Ethan Downing of East Valley Spokane and Beau Omdal of Anacortes were all neck-and-neck coming down the last 25 yards. Velie ended up with a very close fourth place finish with a time of 52.61. Burchell’s winning time was 52.04.
“It’s looking strong,” Velie said of his state meet performance. “And I’m really happy with this season.”
There were quite a few more young swimmers making waves this season as well.
North Kitsap freshman Ian Stefanski made a fine state meet debut this past weekend. Stefanski swam the 200- and 500-yard freestyle events, finishing fourth in both of them to state-record breaking performances from Warren Briggs of Liberty. Stefanski was also part of North Kitsap’s sixth-place 200-yard medley relay and seventh-place 400-yard freestyle relay.
His teammates in those events included James Correll and Isaac Beers, two Vikings sophomores who are also on the rise at the state level. Correll was fourth in the 100-yard breaststroke and took fifth in the 200 IM. Beers finished fifth in the 100-yard backstroke and eighth in the 100-yard butterfly.
This trio leads a solid core of young swimmers that should help North Kitsap improve on its sixth place team finish this season.
“We’re all growing up together,” Stefanski said. “We’re all like brothers.”