We know her as Julia Sanders, an eight-time state champion swimmer from Hockinson High School.
Her real name is Julia-Grace Sanders.
“I think it’s a pretty name, but it’s a little bit of a chore to say in everyday conversation,” Sanders said.
So Sanders will continue to go by Julia for now. However, if everything goes according to her plans, her biography will change in a couple of weeks. From eight-time champion to 10-time champion.
That is what is at stake as Sanders prepares for the final high school state championship meet of her career.
“I don’t feel like a senior,” Sanders said. “I’ve just been having fun, and it kind of flew by.”
As a freshman, Sanders won the Class 2A 200 individual medley and the 100 butterfly, and she was a part of two state championship relay teams. She won the 50 free and the 100 butterfly in both her sophomore and junior seasons. This season, she is looking at winning another 200 IM title while going for her fourth butterfly title.
“I think the chances are good,” she said. “I don’t want to jinx myself or anything. I’ll just do my best.”
Regardless of the results at the state championships Nov. 9 -10 in Federal Way, Sanders will go down as one of the most decorated high school swimmers in Southwest Washington history. While she says she does not feel like it’s her final year of high school, she did take time this week to reflect on her career and the importance of the sport in high school.
Sanders has been a competitive club swimmer for years, long before she was in high school. She always knew she was strong in the sport, but it was being a part of a high school team that made her want to continue competing in college.
“It’s something that reminds me of why I love swimming,” she said. “I wasn’t sure I loved it enough to try to get a scholarship. It’s always been a big part of my life, but because of these past four years, it became something I wanted to pursue.”
Regarding college, Sanders has made visits and has offers, but she has not confirmed a destination. She said she has five finalists and promised to make a decision soon.
Part of the appeal of college swimming is the team atmosphere she gets in high school. Hockinson has seven swimmers this season, but the Hawks practice with swimmers from Woodland, Camas, Battle Ground, Prairie, and Seton Catholic.
“We’re definitely one team at meets, and we’re all friends,” Sanders said.
Then there are the journeys they take together.
“I look forward to state the entire high school season,” Sanders said. “The trip up there is a blast. We get each other really pumped up. We make sure we’re eating good. It’s a great team-bonding experience.”
The King County Aquatic Center is possibly the best facility in the Northwest for the sport.
“A great pool, a great atmosphere. A lot of big meets are held there. It can get you a little bit nervous and ready to go,” Sanders said.
The state championship also has a tradition of allowing the top qualifier to pick the “walk-out” music before each final. Sanders has done that six times, but she can only remember three of the songs: “Whip My Hair” by Willow Smith, “Pump It” by Black Eyed Peas. “The Beast” by Tech N9ne.
“I wouldn’t pick those again,” she said with a smile. “At the time, they were good.”
Sanders has not decided what she will choose this year if she is the fastest going into the finals. She said she likely will pick a song from the road trip to Federal Way, a song she enjoys with her teammates.
Even though she has done it so many times, Sanders said she never takes for granted the experience at state.
“It makes you feel like a real athlete, getting introduced with your walk-out song,” she said. “It’s very, very exciting.”
It also is one of the few high school meets that attracts thousands of fans. For years, those fans have seen a swimmer from Hockinson excel.
“Swimming is definitely not the most popular sport at Hockinson,” Sanders said. “Those of us who do it love it. I like that we’re giving swimming a little bit of attention.”