The Camas High School boys swimmers have their alarm clocks set earlier this season.
With no practice time available in the afternoon at LaCamas Swim & Sport’s Grass Valley Aquatics Center, every single Papermaker who wants to be on the team must be willing to take the plunge into the pool before school starts.
“You have to show up ready to work. There is no set when you can slack off,” said junior Kasey Calwell. “You push through when you’re hurt, tired, or when it’s dark and cold outside and you just want to be in your own bed. We want the younger guys to know that it hurts for us too.”
Calwell said these Papermakers are not going to get to the district and state championship meets “without all the hard work and pain,” but the rewards are worth it. He finished in fourth place in the 200-meter individual medley and the 100 breaststroke during last season’s state meet at the King County Aquatics Center, in Federal Way.
But, it all starts by punching that clock at 5:15 a.m.
“It really challenges your devotion,” said senior co-captain Xianguang Yan. “To wake up at four in the morning just to get here, that really says something.”
Getting out of bed before the sun rises every morning is no problem for fellow co-captain Joey Wunderlich. The CHS senior serves as the head lifeguard at LaCamas Swim & Sport. He also teaches swimming lessons to children.
“It’s always nice to wake up to water,” Wunderlich said. “You jump right in and get your day started.”
Yan and Wunderlich have been a part of the Papermaker swimming program for four winters. Calwell, Lucas Ulmer, John Utas and Max Urbanek have gained three years of experience from multiple league, district and state meets. Together, they lead an explosive batch of sophomores and freshmen.
“With the power of our returning swimmers, plus this new group of freshmen, I think we are going to be very strong,” said head coach Mike Bemis. “I also see the gap closing between all of the teams in this area, which is going to be really fun. The kids are going to enjoy the competition at every single meet.”
Camas defeated Kelso 157-77 Wednesday. In the first race of the season, Calwell, Tom Utas, Ulmer and John Utas qualified for state in the 200 medley relay with a winning time of 1 minute, 53.29 seconds. John Utas also hit the state cut in the 50 freestyle, when he swam to the end of the pool and back in 25.39 seconds.
The Papermakers clinched first place at the 15-school Sprint Pentathlon Saturday, in Longview. Calwell qualified for state in the 100 backstroke with a winning time of 55.45 seconds. Utas finished first in the 25 individual medley (12.44), 50 free (23.2) and 100 breaststroke (1:05.67). Ulmer earned first in the 100 fly (55.39) and the 25 back (13.18).
Camas will battle league rivals Union and Skyview for the title, and non-league powerhouses Mountain View and Columbia River for bragging rights. Bemis expects the seniors to teach the underclassmen about the school’s swimming tradition, and for the juniors to take the next step toward becoming leaders.
“For a lack of a better term, it’s the Camas way,” Bemis said. “These kids come in as freshmen and they set such high standards. As juniors and seniors, they are expected to meet them. And away we go.”
Yan and Wunderich are thriving in their new roles as captains. It didn’t seem so long ago that they were freshmen, but now they are on their last hoorah.
“I remember when I was little and I saw how all of the seniors before us were leading the way. Now, it’s my turn and I’m excited,” Yan said. “When I’m up on the blocks, I tell myself, ‘this is for you guys.’ I don’t want to let them down.”
Wunderlich looks at each goal for the team as rungs of a ladder climbing up on to a diving board. The Papermakers want to make a big splash at state, but it takes a lot of little steps to get there.
“We’re hoping to win league and districts like we have the last three years, and get a top-five finish at state,” Wunderlich said. “It’s going to take a lot of time and dedication, but I think we can get there. Our freshmen are already placing and winning events, and we have so many great people who have returned.”