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June 26, 2022

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All-Region boys swimming: Sam Empey, Union

Titans sophomore helped team place high at 4A state meet

By , Columbian Assistant Sports Editor
3 Photos
Sam Empey of Union High School is the All-Region swimmer of the year, as pictured at Cascade Athletic Club on Tuesday afternoon, March 15, 2022.
Sam Empey of Union High School is the All-Region swimmer of the year, as pictured at Cascade Athletic Club on Tuesday afternoon, March 15, 2022. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

There is not a swimming event Sam Empey isn’t willing to try — 100-yard butterfly, 100 backstroke, 100 breaststroke, all freestyle events and the 200 individual medley.

But he has a particular fondness for the 50 free.

“I like it how you have to prepare for it so much mentally,” the Union High School sophomore said. “You have to be spot on. You can’t come into the 50 not having a plan. You have to be prepared for the 50. If you’re not prepared, you can’t try to make an adjustment and expect an amazing result. I just love how technical it is.”

Empey also experienced how fickle the 50 free can be this winter.

He came into the Class 4A state swim meet with the top-seeded time of 20.71 seconds. But he was unable improve on that time at the state meet, finishing fourth in the event.

He also placed second in the 100 fly and helped Union place in two relays at state, earning his selection as The Columbian’s All-Region boys swimmer of the year.

“I think (this season) went great overall,” Empey said. “I think it was hard at first kind of getting used to it because I had never really had a high school season. Last year was like ‘eh’ because of COVID. But I think we did really well as a team. I think we brought the best package we could to state.”

Empey also swam on Union’s 200 medley relay that placed seventh at state, and the Titans’ 200 free relay that placed sixth.

His sophomore season with the Titans started with a trip to the U.S. junior nationals in Austin, Texas, in December.

“I barely qualified, and I knew that I most likely wasn’t going to place at the top,” Empey said. “I just went to get a really good experience of seeing the top high schoolers in the nation and see how they dealt with racing at a high level.”

A competitive swimmer since age eight, Empey knows all about the highs and lows of the sport. It’s part that keeps him coming back to the pool as a year-round swimmer.

“You see your improvement like to the tenth of a second,” Empey said. “It comes in small increments, so that can make it hard to stay motivated. But I think the atmosphere that we have on the team, everyone working hard at practice, pushing each other. It makes me feel accountable to go to practice to help push everyone else.”

And he knows there is plenty of room for improvement in his own swimming. The 50 free at state was an example of that.

“I have to know how many dolphin kicks I’m going to take off the wall,” he said. “I have to know what’s my stroke count going to be going down, coming back.”

Any miscalculation — a poor start, a poor turn — could leave a swimmer reaching for the wall at the finish line, costing him precious hundredths of a second.

“I actually did reach on my wall at state, both in the prelims and finals,” Empey said. “I don’t think I was prepared as I should have been. I know what I could have done, and I know what I need to do to be better.”

But Empey is looking forward to next season, particularly because every swimmer on Union’s three relay teams at state were underclassmen this season, including his younger brother Stephen.

“I’m not sure what events I’ll focus on next year,” he said. “I definitely want to diversify my swimming portfolio to appeal colleges. But I also want to have more fun, and maybe see what events I can swim that will help get the most points for the team.”

Rest of the All-Region boys swim team

Liam Dunn, Hockinson

The junior was a state runner-up in the 50 free and placed fifth in the 100 back at the 2A state meet.

Carsten Hicks, Battle Ground

The senior place sixth in the 100 fly and 15th in 50 free at the 4A state meet.

Nathan Kim, Camas

The junior placed seventh in the 200 IM and was a finalist in the 100 back at the 4A state meet.

Liam Noftsker, Columbia River

The senior placed third in the 100 free and third in the 100 back at the 2A state meet.

Owen Robertson, Union

The freshman placed eight in the 200 free and eighth in the 500 free at the 4A state meet.

Justin Xue, Mountain View

The senior placed 10th in the 50 free and 16th in the 100 breast at the 3A state meet.

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