For what was perhaps the biggest high school swimming event in Cottage Grove’s history, things couldn’t have gone much better.
On Fri. and Sat., Feb. 14-15 the Cottage Grove Lions swim team and the revamped Warren H. Daugherty Aquatic Center hosted the Special District 4 District Swimming Championships for the first time.
With 10 teams, hundreds of swimmers, plus friends and family, hosting such a large-scale event was no easy task. But, the facility was a hit, both Lions teams earned top-three finishes and everything went off with nary a hitch.
“Especially considering we lost power [before the start] and it was our first time running districts, it did go very well,” said head swimming coach Tyson Pilling.
“People had a really good time and they loved the pool. Lots of good feedback and the space was just great. It didn’t seem like there were quite as many people as there actually were.”
The pool deck was packed with athletes and spectators and coupled with humidity rising off the pool surface, the inside of the Daugherty Center felt at times like summer in Florida, but it did little to dampen the excitement of the event.
Cowbells rang out, parents and coaches cheered on their kids, and after two days of preliminaries and finals, there were successes to be counted both in and out of the water.
While the capacity of the Daugherty Center to host such an event — now and in the future — was a big takeaway, the Cottage Grove Lions swimmers and their Special District 4 peers were the real show.
“The teams did great,” Pilling said. “Everybody dropped time. Having someone there, a family member or a friend, and of course just having your own facility really helped the swimmers feel more comfortable, more relaxed.”
After 22 finals races on Saturday, the Cottage Grove girls stood in second place overall, behind district champion Marshfield. The boys achieved a third-place finish, behind Marshfield and Klamath Union.
“We had a lot of good comments from other teams saying how impressed they were with our team,” Pilling said. “It was almost a shock. They were, like, ‘Wow, you guys came out of nowhere.’”
With new home digs, a dedicated coach and an ever-growing pool of local swimmers, the Lions are a team on the rise.
Individually, Lions swimmers qualified for ten events at this weekend’s state championships, to be held Feb. 21-22 at the Tualatin Hills Aquatic Center.
For the boys, sophomore James Kelly qualified in the 200 individual medley as well as the 500 freestyle. Senior Iverson Bascue will race in the 100 backstroke, junior Jairus Vanberg in the 200 freestyle, while the foursome of Bascue, Kelly, Vanberg and junior Fisher Nash will represent Cottage Grove in the 200 medley relay.
On the girls’ side, junior MJ Raade was the lone individual state qualifier, making the OSAA 4A top-eight in both the 500 and 200 freestyle. However, the girls will send representatives for three relay races: the 200 medley relay (seniors Nadia Witt and Mikayla Baird, sophomore Kajsa Merz and freshman Kassidy Poetzl), the 200 freestyle relay (Witt, sophomore Peyton Baird, senior Emma Burleson and Raade), and the 400 freestyle relay (M. Baird, Raade, Poetzl and freshman Kalee Walter).
Overall, it’s the best team performance for Cottage Grove swimming in some time and the team will be well-represented this weekend at state where the 4A races will be held at 6:30 p.m. on both Friday and Saturday.
When the Daugherty Center was undergoing renovations, there was hope locally that the facility would become a swimming hub in South Lane County and the greater Willamette Valley. With team success at the high school level and the fluid execution of last weekend’s districts, that may be happening sooner rather than later.