PORT ANGELES — This is the Port Angeles swimmers’ year to be road warriors.
Literally, because every single one of their swim meets this year will be a road meet.
Don’t expect any complaining from the swim team, according to new coach Britt Hemphill.
The William Shore Memorial Pool in Port Angeles is being refurbished this season, meaning that both the Port Angeles girls’ team (and the boys’ team this spring) are having to make the 15-mile jaunt down Highway 101 to practice and hold “home meets” at the Sequim YMCA. And by “refurbished,” we mean it’s basically being completely torn down to the foundation, roof and support beams and completely rebuilt.
The Sequim pool is also used by the Sequim High School teams and by the Port Angeles Swim Club, a team for youth swimmers. Which means it’s a very busy facility this spring.
Hemphill, who coached the swim team in 1994, is a Sequim resident, so it’s not a huge inconvenience for him. He is coaching the girls this year after the retirement of Rich Butler.
He said he has stressed to the girls to embrace this challenge and not to see the travel to Sequim three times a week as just a hassle.
“I’ve challenged them with the idea that we can embrace this,” Hemphill said. As part of that embrace, the team had T-shirts made that read, “Road Team 2019.”
“If we can’t get excited about that, we’re in trouble,” Hemphill said.
Hemphill said the team has some seriously good senior swimmers, with Felicia Che and Emma Murray as co-captains. Both of these swimmers have competed in multiple events at the state swim championships and Hemphill wants it to be a signature season for these girls.
Joining Che and Murray is Kenzie Johnson, who qualified for state championships her freshman and sophomore years, but took last season off from the team. This talented trio of seniors is joined by a strong new freshman in Mackenzie DuBois, who right off the bat in her first varsity meet of the year won two individual events.
Cooperation with Sequim
Hemphill said the Sequim YMCA “has done a great job creating space for two programs.”
Hemphill said he spoke with new Sequim coach Sarah Thorson to set up a schedule for the two teams to use the facility.
“I met with her early and said, ‘I want to work with you.’ Sarah and I hit it off. We have a good working relationship,” he said.
Sequim holds its practises from 3:15 p.m. to 5:15 p.m., while Port Angeles’ practice overlaps from 4:15 p.m. to 6:15 p.m. The Port Angeles Swim Club practices from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. The Sequim YMCA is a very busy facility this year with practices going on for six solid hours most days.
It’s a serious operation to get the Port Angeles girls 17 miles to Sequim because it is a fairly large team with 25 junior varsity and varsity swimmers.
The girls pile into buses to get to Sequim, but the swimmers’ families have banded together to carpool and bring them back home to Port Angeles afterward.
“The parents are stepping up,” Hemphill said. He also credits Port Angeles High School Athletic Director Dwayne Johnson for making all the transportation arrangements.
“It’s definitely been kind of an adjustment” said Che.
Che said the girls on the team have vowed to “make the most of this season. “Obviously, we’re not thrilled with it.”
She said that with the girls’ history of success, the girls are also looking for a return to state and another top team finish at the state championship despite the added challenge of constant travel.
“We’re looking to hold on to a lot of the traditions” of the program, she said.
Because of strict Washington Interscholastic Activities Association rules about schools holding joint practices, the Sequim and Port Angeles swim teams can’t be working together or holding unofficial scrimmages. They have to stay as separated as possible for that hour of overlap.
They do watch each other and see who is swimming well. There’s no avoiding that, Hemphill said.
“You’re mindful when the other team is in the pool. There’s no way to miss the fact that the rivalry is there,” he said. Though Che said it is a friendly rivalry.
Sequim and Port Angeles are among two of the top 2A girls’ swim programs in the state. The Roughriders finished second in the state in 2016, third in 2017 and eighth in 2018. Last year, a growing Sequim program finished 11th in the state.
For now, the plan is for the pool construction to be done by fall of 2020, so the Port Angeles’ boys team will also be affected in the spring.
There is some concern that the project could take longer than one year, Hemphill said. “This is supposed to be a one-off,” Hemphill said.
Right now, the William Shore Memorial Pool is basically some barren walls, a huge hole in the ground and a lot of rubble.
Hemphill and the girls can’t wait to see the finished product.
“It’s going to be an amazing facility,” he said.