FEDERAL WAY — Putting North Kitsap’s team 2A state championship into words was nearly impossible for Vikings swimmers and coaches — much harder, it seemed, than actually winning the title.
“I can’t think of the word to describe it,” said senior Isabel Hendryx.
“Indescribable!” she exclaimed a moment later.” There we go. That’s a good one.”
North Kitsap won five events and scored 277.5 points at the King County Aquatic Center in Federal Way on Nov. 10, finishing 47.5 points ahead of last year’s champion, Liberty. It was the first championship in program history and the first girls team swimming title in Kitsap County since Bainbridge won one in 1999.
Over the past four years, North Kitsap moved up from seventh in 2015 to fourth in 2016 and second last year in 2017. With a deep roster of experienced and talented swimmers returning in 2018, there was only one place left to go for the Vikings — the summit.
“When I was a freshman, I think we got sixth or seventh,” said senior Izy Iral, a member of all four of those teams. “I never imagined we’d be here. But the team has just been so great.”
But even with all the talent in the world, so many things can still go wrong. Last year at districts, North Kitsap had a relay disqualified. Eleanor Beers, the team’s star sprinter, was also flagged for a false start in the 100-freestyle. Starts have to be clean, swims have to be fast, and technique has to be perfect.
“It’s kind of one of those magic moments where everything kind of converged to this moment,” head coach Greg Braun said.
And there was certainly plenty of magic on this day.
Hendryx had thrice been denied a state championship in the 100 backstroke in her career coming into Saturday’s meeting. She finished fourth as a freshman, and then second her sophomore and junior years, coming up short by less than two-tenths of a second both times. This year, she beat out Liberty’s Alexa Hoeper by half a second to finally capture her crown.
“It was four years in the making,” Hendryx said.
If it was a extra loud as Hendryx swam to a title, it was because she had a cheering section a little larger than most others. A group of firefighters from the Bremerton Fire Department were in attendance Saturday to cheer her on. Her father, James, was a member of the department when he passed away in January 2017 from non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
“That was very heartwarming,” Hendryx said, describing the scene as she stood on the podium and was announced as the winner, the crowd roaring with support. “I’m very grateful for that.”
Beers, the junior and now three-time winner of the Swimmer of the Meet award, provided some of the morning’s most electric moments, slicing her way through the water like a knife through butter.
She took home a victory in both the 50 and 100 freestyle events for the third year in a row, breaking both of her own meet records in the process with times of 23.17 and 50.75 respectively, the former an automatic All-American time. Beers also swam a 23.17 in her 50-yard leg of the 200 freestyle relay, overtaking Melissa May of Aberdeen for the state championship. Her 22.94 50-yard leg nearly closed a 3.5-second lead held by Aberdeen in the 200 medley relay.
Sophomore Brianna Hoffman won her first state crown in the 200 freestyle and finished second in the 500 freestyle. But the individual accomplishments seemed to be secondary in everyone’s mind, even the swimmers who achieved them.
“I’m pretty happy with my performances,” Beers said. “But I would say this definitely … it’s way more exciting.”
Each swimmer can only participate in two individual events and two relays. North Kitsap needed big performances from more than just its top few swimmers, and it got them.
Sophomore Kyla Schroeder swam a solid leg on the 200-yard medley relay team that finished second. Iral, also a member of that relay, won the state title along with sophomore Layna Hart in the 200 free relay and finished 11th in the 50 free and sixth in the 100-yard butterfly.
Freshman Kristina DuPont qualified for the “A” finals in the 200 freestyle and 500 freestyle and took eighth in both — she also took part in the fourth place 400 freestyle relay. Freshman Zoe Cera and sophomore Genevieve Nolet also added points in the 200 freestyle.
Another freshman, Ava Harris, scored with an 11th place in the 100 butterfly. Hart also picked up points in the 50 and 100 freestyle and Hendryx finished eighth in the 100 freestyle as well.
Each contribution, no matter how small, taken together, added up to a point total that sealed the team championship by the end of the tenth event.
“I think that’s why this is such a big deal,” Beers said. “Everyone feels like they’re a part of it.”
With the title in the bag, Braun, named by the Washington Interscholastic Swim Coaches Association as Coach of the Year for the second consecutive time, finally allowed himself to relax.
As Hendryx took her place on the starting platform for the 400 freestyle relay, he put away the stopwatch, put down the clipboard and took some time, 3:46.50 to be exact, to admire the talent of his swimmers.
“I didn’t even buzz up my watch,” Braun said. “I took some video and enjoyed the moment.”
It was a moment that no one wanted to end, either.
As volunteers dutifully began setting up for the 3A state meet, the girls lingered near the podium posing for pictures with their championship trophy, their medals, and each other. In each photo, they held one another closely, hoping to forever capture the joy and exuberance of that fine morning. Hoping to hold on to the euphoria of a successful journey just a little bit longer.