Washington takes next step in defending titles

Published 6:53 pm Thursday, February 1, 2018

The pressure is on. Washington’s swimming team has spent all season building toward this weekend. It will head out to the Cary Aquatic Center Friday to compete in Saturday morning’s 1-A/2-A eastern-regional championship.

The boys go in with a sizeable target on their backs. They’re the two-time defending 1-A/2-A state champions. They won their second-straight title in convincing fashion in February 2017, but lost four key seniors from that group.

The girls, on the other hand, haven’t had many representatives at the state-championship meet in recent years. The Lady Pack swimmers have seen their hard work pay off. That squad is hoping this resurgence materializes in the form of title contenders.

First-year coach Kaitlyn Richards has one overall objective for each team: have the season’s best performances in Cary.

“I just want them to improve. I want them to push themselves,” she said. “I want our best times, if possible. We do have a lot of pressure going in there as state-championship winners, but we can’t do that every year. I just really want them to go out and do their best.”

With the boys, Washington has its experienced swimmers to lean on. Patrick Lovenberg was the lone non-senior on last year’s 200-yard medley relay championship team. Harrison Schmidt and Hodges Tubaugh, both juniors, also won medals as parts of relays.

This time around, each will be expected to step up in individual events.

“A lot of them are doing individual events,” Richards said. “I hope they’re ready to step up to the plate and compete. We also have relays with guys like Braeden Beach.”

The Pam Pack has become somewhat of a dynasty, thanks to the East Carolina Aquatics year-round program. Losing championship winners like A.J. Howard, Kevin Andrews, Justin Clark and Tony Lovenberg is tough to endure. However, many of the underclassmen stepping into open slots have been primed for this moment.

One of them is Tristan Pake. He’s the son of former head coach Spencer Pake and has been around high-level swimming his entire life.

“He’s seen regionals inside and out. He’s been there with his dad,” Richards said. “He knows what to expect, as far as the pressure.”

As much importance there is on the boys to defend their crown, the Lady Pack team also has some high expectations.

“This is a really big year for the girls. I keep calling this a year for growth,” Richards said. “They’ve really stepped up. There are 10 of them going and competing. I just really hope they take everything we’ve learned this season and apply it.”

The regional-championship meet begins at 9 a.m. on Saturday at the Cary Aquatic Center. It will also be an experience for Richards, who will be coaching at the event for the first time.

“I’m really excited. I’ve seen this pool as a swimmer, as a spectator, and now as a coach,” she said. “It’s going to be a different feel this year. I’m ready for the pressure and the challenges it might bring. I’m ready to see them swim and show what they’ve learned this season.”