Local swimmers have sights on qualifying for state finals

There's a big difference between consolation, championship races

By Paul Valencia, Columbian high school sports reporter

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CAMAS -- Being among the top 16 athletes in the state is a pretty cool accomplishment. No doubt.

Even better? Being in the top eight.

With less than a month remaining in the high school boys swimming season, there are a handful of athletes from Clark County who are trying to make it to the final race of the season in their events, not the penultimate race.

Those who make it to state in individual events and qualify for the consolation finals finish between ninth and 16th. But they do not get to hear the music for the championship finals.

"It's a perfect experience for a swimmer to go to state," Camas junior Lucas Ulmer said. "It's 'Who is the best of the best in Washington State?' You go there and swim your heart out. It's so cool to get there."

Another Camas swimmer, John Utas, loved seeing so many elite athletes under one roof at the King County Aquatic Center in Federal Way.

"It will give you more of a rush because there is so much more competition," Utas said.

Ulmer and Utas each made the championship finals as part of a relay team, but they did not experience the championship-race feeling in an individual event. Ulmer was in the consolation finals in the 100-yard backstroke and 100 butterfly. Utas made it in the 50 free.

There is nothing special about the consolation race, they said.

"They just line you up," Ulmer recalled.

For the championship race, the swimmer with the best qualifying time gets to pick the "walk-out" music. Meet officials hardly wait for the consolation swimmers to grab a towel.

"After you finish swimming (in the consolation), the music starts playing," Ulmer said.

And here come the finalists!

"Sometimes, they have fun with it," Utas added, noting that swimmers in the championship race have been known to dance, to move with the music to their starting positions. "They dress up to the songs."

While both were thrilled to be part of the state meet last year, the goal this year is to join the elite swimmers in Clark County

who have competed in that final race. Kasey Calwell of Camas and Jaron Hamlik of Prairie, for example, both finished in the top four in two events at their state championships in 2013.

Athletes such as Ulmer and Utas are not too far behind. They are not alone, either.

At Columbia River, Nicholas McMillan made the consolation finals in the 200 freestyle last season.

At Hockinson, Dylan Osborne made it to the consolation finals in the 50 freestyle last year as a sophomore. He also has qualified for the 100 butterfly this year. Like Ulmer and Utas, Osborne has competed in the finals for a relay.

Like Ulmer and Utas, Osborne wants more.

"To make the finals, the top eight, in everything that I do," Osborne said. "That's my goal."

Yes, he has caught swimming fever -- even if it came to him a little later than some might have expected. The son of two former Pac-10 swimmers, Osborne did not start swimming competitively until his freshman season of high school, living in Oregon.

"I was around swimming my whole life," he said. "I grew up on deck."

He moved to Hockinson for his sophomore year.

"My goal was to do well in district. I wasn't thinking about state at all," Osborne said.

Now that he has experienced state, he wants to go back again -- and shine.

"The environment is awesome. It would be cool to be in the finals," he said.

Osborne is putting more of an effort into swimming these days, but he also plays football and baseball for the Hawks so he did not have a lot of time for offseason swim training. He added, though, that he is enjoying the sport so much that he promises to make swimming more of a priority in the future.

Making it to state sure helped. Then seeing the difference between consolation finals and championship finals spurred him, too.

"It makes you want to get to that next level," Osborne said.

Back to the Camas swimming team, the dedication is evident by the clock. They practice every day hours before school begins. Ulmer and Utas said they are motivated by their coach, Mike Bemis, who, they said, has the toughest job, putting up with them.

They, too, are driven to succeed.

"You put the effort out there to show you're dedicated," Ulmer said.

Going to state was so fun that they want to go back. Only this time, the athletes in the consolation finals a year ago want to walk up to their final races of the season, listening to music as they prepare to race for a state championship.