Sequim’s Kaleb Needoba, then a freshman, churns through the water in the 200 freestyle in a league meet in January 2018. Needoba is one of the Wolves’ top returners, having qualified for the 200 free and 500 free at districts last season. Sequim Gazette file photo by Michael Dashiell

Sequim’s Kaleb Needoba, then a freshman, churns through the water in the 200 freestyle in a league meet in January 2018. Needoba is one of the Wolves’ top returners, having qualified for the 200 free and 500 free at districts last season. Sequim Gazette file photo by Michael Dashiell

Winter sports preview: Deep SHS boys swim team looks for fun, fast times

Sequim High boys swimming

Head coach: Anita Benitez (second year)

2017-2018 record: 1-5, sixth in Olympic League; two relay teams, one diver to state

Top returning players: Alex Berikoff (sr.), Kaleb Needoba (so.), Liam Payne (sr.), Jax Thaxton (jr.), Blake Boardman (jr.), Deven Biehler (jr.), Jesse Bobst (jr.), Liam Braaten (sr.), Anthony Thompson-Porrazzo (sr.), Zen Graham (jr.), Michael Mattern-Hall (sr.), Jordan Hurdlow (jr.), Oscar Walchenbach (so.)

Key newcomers: Trey Brouillard (sr.), David Calderon Castro (sr.), Myles Conroy (fr.), Emmanuel Gomez (sr.), Silas Isenberger (sr.), David Melcer (so.), William Plasch (so.), Cody Richardson (fr.), Christopher Tadlock (fr.), Noah White (so.)

Fun with the fundamentals.

Sequim coach Anita Benitez has a mantra — “keep the team strong and build a program” — and said that is already paying off. At an early-season practice, she pointed to five full lanes of swimmers, nearly two dozen of them, just a few seasons after the Wolves struggled to hit double digits.

In that vein, Benitez is making sure her athletes aren’t entirely caught up in wins and losses, but rather bonding with each other and enjoying the team experience through team meals and not taking things too seriously.

Years later, she said, the swimmers won’t remember their times in individual events, “but they will remember the fun thing, the silly things … the stuff that keeps them coming back.”

And what’s coming back for the Wolves in 2018-19 is almost an entire program. Minus state diver Mathew Craig, district qualifier Murray Bingham (wrestling) and a few seniors lost to graduation, the Wolves bring back a squad that saw seven individuals qualify for districts and two relays swim their way to the state meet.

Last season Sequim beat Port Angeles 98-71 for its only win of season — their first victory over the Roughriders since December 2003 — but were competitive in many others and have a chance to improve their standing in a balanced Olympic League.

But Benitez doesn’t want her squad to focus on with win-loss column.

“We focus more on their individual strengths,” Benitez said. “I don’t ever want to be that coach, yelling at kids about losing a meet.”

Leading the way are a trio of strong relay swimmers in senior Alex Berikoff, junior Jax Thaxton and sophomore Kaleb Needoba, plus senior Liam Payne.

Thaxton was a a district qualifier in both 50 free (13th) and 100 free (13th), and Benitez said he’s already posted strong times in both distances in the preseason.

Needoba was a district qualifier in 500 free (13th) and 200 free (22nd).

Payne, a district qualifier in 100 breast (11th) and 200 IM (22nd), and Berikoff, district qualifier in 50 free (20th) and 100 free (18th), were named team captains for the second consecutive season.

“They helped build the team in the first place,” Benitez said.

Berikoff said he hopes to qualify for districts in the 50 free again, plus make districts in 100 breastroke, a swim he hasn’t competed in yet.

“Relays are my favorite, (particularly) the 200 free relay,” Berikoff said. “We have a good chance to break our relay times again,” he said, noting the Wolves’ school record-breaking 400 free relay swim of 3:49.34 on Jan. 30.

Other returning Wolves with district qualifying times in 2017-2018 are Jesse Bobst (100 breast, 19th), Blake Boardman (100 back, 19th) and Deven Biehler (100 free, 22nd).

Biehler, a junior, was part of the 200 free relay team that posted a state 2A meet qualifying time after placing 11th at districts, and part of the school record-breaking 400 relay team (with Berikoff, Needoba and Thaxton).

Benitez, who coached the girls team for seven seasons (2011-2017) and is now in her second with the Sequim boys, expects all three SHS relays — 200 medley, plus return trips for the 200 free and 400 free — to get to state.

Sequim was scheduled to open the season on Dec. 4 at home against Olympic; results were not available at press time.

The Wolves host Kingston on Dec. 6 before taking on rival Port Angeles on Dec. 13, their final meet of 2018. Sequim is back in the pool Jan. 10, 2019, at home against North Kitsap.

Jax Thatxton, pictured here swimming against Bremerton in a league meet last season, was a district meet qualifier in both 50 and 100 free events, placing 13th in both. He was also part of the Wolves’ 200 free and 400 free relay teams that qualified for state. Sequim Gazette file photo by Michael Dashiell

Jax Thatxton, pictured here swimming against Bremerton in a league meet last season, was a district meet qualifier in both 50 and 100 free events, placing 13th in both. He was also part of the Wolves’ 200 free and 400 free relay teams that qualified for state. Sequim Gazette file photo by Michael Dashiell

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