When South Whidbey senior Kinsey Eager stepped out of the Fidalgo Pool at the Class 1A/2A District finals on Nov. 5 in Anacortes, she wondered if her career was over.
Though she gave it all she had in the 100-meter backstroke, her time of 1:06:92 was neither a top-three placing to advance to state or a state-qualifying mark. In fact, it was just .72 seconds too long.
“That was a heartbreaker,” Eager said. “It’s the little things: The flip turn, the dive, all these things that could have added up to get it.”
Her teammate, junior Ally Lynch, faced a similar predicament in the 100-meter breaststroke; her time of 1:17:38 was also outside the berth requirements.
Then at around 6 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 6, Eager and Lynch got a second chance.
Both Eager and Lynch’s times were among the top 24 in the state in their respective events. There are 24 lanes available at the state meet and when they are not all filled by qualifying marks and top-three placers, “wild card” swimmers with the next highest marks are slotted in. That meant the two would be among those competing 1A/2A girls swimming and diving state championships at King County Aquatic Center in Federal Way.
Needless to say, it came as a pleasant surprise to Eager and Lynch.
“It was such a relief,” Eager said.
The state meet began Friday morning. Eager was seeded 19th, while Lynch was 21st.
The duo have spent the past three months commuting from school to a swimming facility at Kamiak High School as part of a cooperative agreement with South Whidbey that begin in 2015. Both came up short at last year’s district meet. A third swimmer, junior Bella Thorne, was unable to compete this season due to a shoulder injury.
“The main goal was to get to state, but we never thought we’d be able to make it,” Eager said.
Chris Erickson, head swim coach at Kamiak, said the wild card qualification is practically designed to let swimmers on the fringe advance.
“That’s called the exciting way to find out,” Erickson said.
He also said they’ll have to swim harder and faster than they ever have before if they hope to have a chance of advancing from state prelims to the finals, which has only 16 swimmers.
“It’s going to be a fun surprise if that happens,” Erickson said. “The odds are against them, but that’s what makes it fun.”
Eager said some pressure has been lifted off her shoulders having qualified for state. But with that monkey off her back comes another: she wants to advance to the finals race or at least set a personal record. Eager will still be content with what she’s accomplished if she doesn’t.
“I do feel it [pressure], but not as much,” Eager said. “You’re already at the top meet.”
Lynch has the benefit of another season if things don’t go her way at state. She hopes to soak in as much of the experience she can and use it to her advantage next year if she qualifies again.
“Going to state was just a goal in itself,” Lynch said.
Erickson thought the pair qualifying for state was a testament to their dedication to the sport, Erickson said. He was also impressed that they were able to advance despite the level of competition in 1A and 2A becoming tougher and tougher every year.
“When you look back at it, it usually starts and ends with that commitment,” Erickson said.
Practicing with the Knights, whose boys swim team has won three state titles in six years, also had its perks. Eager and Lynch swam with the Knights’ girls varsity team, which was a step up from last year when they were with junior varsity. With another year under their belt, Erickson said the pair set expectations for themselves and had a better understanding of how a season unfolds.
Eager and Lynch might have a leg up on their counterparts in 1A and 2A having swam an entire season against athletes from 3A and 4A classifications, which the Knights compete in.
“I would say it’s an advantage,” Eager said. “It made us hungry for more. We would lose against really tough people. It made us want to go faster and faster.”