Swimmers strive to keep state streak alive

Back from state wins in 2017 and 2018, Camas boys work toward third-straight title

Coach Mike Bemis watches swimmers train at Cascade Athletic Club in Vancouver.

Washougal boys swim team captain Isaiah Ross

Camas boys swim team co-captain Chris Xia

Camas boys swim team co-captain Austin Fogel

The head coach of a Camas High boys’ swim team that won back-to-back state titles in 2017 and 2018 is enjoying training the current Papermakers, as well as Washougal High Panthers who also have competed at the state level.

Coach Mike Bemis, in his 16th year as a Camas swim coach, said swimmers, in general, are dedicated athletes.

“I like coaching dedicated people and trying to help them in any way possible, to get better, go after their goals and try to obtain them,” he said. “It’s just fun to coach the great athletes.”

The Washougal swimmers train with the Camas team, five mornings a week, at Cascade Athletic Club in East Vancouver.

Camas swimmers look to district, state competitions

So far this season, the Camas High Papermakers, in the 4A Greater St. Helens League (GSHL), have beat Kelso, Mark Morris, R.A. Long, Skyview, Columbia River, Hudson’s Bay and Fort Vancouver, and they lost to Curtis High School, of University Place, Washington.

Bemis, 71, expects the swimmers from Mountain View and Union, as well as those from high schools in Bellevue and Seattle, will be tough for the Camas swimmers to compete against.

He said Camas seniors Austin Fogel and Chris Xia are working great together as the Camas team captains.

Fogel, a distance freestyler who competes in individual medley, butterfly and breaststroke events, trains hard and is a very good leader, according to the coach.

“He is one of the first to practice every morning,” Bemis said. “He does the extra things that a captain has to do, along with Chris.”

“They divide the chores,” Bemis added. “Chris texts and emails (and provides) communication for the team. Chris is a little bit more of a quiet leader. Austin is a little more vocal.”

Fogel, Xia and several other Camas swimmers have perfect 4.0 grade point averages.

Xia, a sprint freestyler in the 50 and 100, also swims the 100 butterfly. He placed fifth in the men’s 50-yard freestyle and sixth in the men’s 100-yard freestyle finals, at the state championship in February 2018. Xia, 17, was on the 200- and 400-yard free relay teams that won state titles.

After he learned how to swim at the age of 4, Xia figured out he really enjoyed being in the water.

“I didn’t really want to swim to compete, I just liked the act of swimming and the friends I made through it,” he said.

Xia began swimming on the Camas-based Lacamas Headhunters swim team, when he 9, and he credits the support of his former teammates and coach, Justin Slade, for encouraging him to swim competitively and participate in meets when he was 12.

Xia said swimming helps to relieve the stress of taking advanced placement classes and applying to colleges and gives him an outlet for some of his energy.

“Being able to improve with hard work — no matter how small the improvement — is always a rewarding experience,” he said. “Since your progress can be numerically quantified, it’s easy to see how you can improve over the years and even a season.”

Fogel remembers telling his parents when he was 4 years old, he wanted to take swim lessons.

“I loved the feeling of being in water,” he said.

Fogel, 18, started competing when he was 6.

He said swimming makes him physically fit and mentally tough, and he makes new friends along the way.

The challenges of swimming include waking up early for the 5:30 a.m., Monday through Friday, practices.

“The meets can last two to four hours, not counting travel time,” Fogel said.

Dedication to the team and sport, as well as his desire to improve and not let his team down, motivate him to be awake for the early practices.

In addition to Xia and Fogel, coach Bemis hopes David Peddie, Ben Taylor, Luke Bales and Jack Harris also step up and help the Camas team succeed this season.

Bemis also hopes the Papermakers win the 4A district title again and compete at the state meet.

“Getting back onto the podium on one of the top four places — as a team or individually — it’s a real achievement,” he said.

Leslie Levesque has been the assistant coach for the Camas and Washougal high schools’ varsity boys’ swim teams for 11 years.

Washougal team features four swimmers

The Washougal High Panthers, in the 2A Greater St. Helens League, have beat Fort Vancouver, tied with Hudson’s Bay and lost to Curtis, Kelso, Mark Morris, R.A. Long, Columbia River and Skyview, so far this season. Bemis expects Hockinson, Anacortes and Kingston High, of Kingston, Washington, will be tough competition for Washougal.

Washougal swim team captain Isaiah Ross competed in two events at the state swimming championships during each of his three years in high school.

“Isaiah can swim at the state level at just about anything he wants,” Bemis said. “He is a distance freestyler, 100 butterflyer and (competes in the) 200 IM. He can pretty much qualify for state in a lot of events. He’s been in the big finals in all three of those.”

Ross placed second in the 100 butterfly and fourth in the 200 free, at the state swimming championships in February 2018.

Bemis said Ross, 18, is an excellent trainer who has expectations to compete at the highest level.

“He’s trying to be swimming in the top 1 percent of all high school swimmers in the state of Washington,” Bemis said. “He’s got lofty goals.”

Ross’s goals include getting more Washougal High School students involved in swimming. In addition to Ross, the Panthers team includes another senior, Daniel Brown, and two freshmen — Lucas Santer and Blake Scott.

“I want the two freshmen to have such a good experience that they invite their friends into the sport,” Ross said.

He has been swimming competitively since he was 7, and he would like to finish his high school swimming career with two championship titles.

Brown specializes in the 100 butterfly and 50 and 100 freestyle.

Bemis hopes Brown will repeat as a district and state finalist.

“He’s developed into a very, very good swimmer,” Bemis said. “I’m not sure if he wants to swim in college, but he has the ability if he wants to.”

“He’s been a good leader for the program,” Bemis added, regarding Brown. “He’s been a good standout in practices and at meets.”

Overall, Bemis said it is fun coaching a group of swimmers that have internal drive and are working hard to return to the state meet.

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