Photos by Seth Bynum
Slideshow: Click on the image for more photos from the event.

Gators, Raiders battle in pool


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Thomas Jefferson and Decatur swam in a girls dual meet and the winner was the more experienced TJ team.

Raider sophomore Amber Cratsenberg parted the water the fastest, as she and other state-returning teammates like Savannah Coe, Janice Huynh and Michelle Hogan won 9-of-11 races, plus the diving was won by TJ freshman Monica Church, to dunk the Gators at the King County Aquatic Center Thursday.

"We graduated about 15 seniors and we have about 15 freshmen coming in," said TJ head coach Wendy Neely. "We are a young team, but we have a lot of returners, too."

Returners who should help the Raiders do quite well this season at state. But let's not get too far ahead of things.

For now, let's stick with the biggest winners of this meet. Sure, it's Cratsenberg, as well as the Gators' Kelsey Crowder and Coe winning two events each.

Cratsenberg and Coe were on state relay teams last year, and Cratsenberg took second in the 50 freestyle at state last year as a freshman. Cratsenberg was also fourth in the 100 free at state.

On this date against the Gators, Cratsenberg won the 100 free (55:04) and 50 free (25.20). Coe won the 200 IM (individual medley) in a 2:66.30 time and the 100 breaststroke in 1:11.46.

So state champ in the 50 free, maybe throw in the 100 free, for good measure, what do you think, coach?

"Sure,” said Neely, laughing, standing nearby Cratsenberg after this dual. "I do think so. No one else knows yet, but we know anyway."

Both laughed then.

Swimmer of the meet could go hand-in-hand, too, for Cratsenberg because she won two events individually and was on two speedy relays. But let's not put too much pressure on Cratsenberg, not to mention on her teammates, in the relays to really perform.

Swimmers like Coe, Huyhn, Hogan and Cratsenberg mentioned on her relays will help them finish high, and Bailey Warrior was mentioned by the sophomore swim sensation, too.

"That would be nice," said Cratsenberg, laughing again.

Neely didn't disagree with swimmer of the meet for Cratsenberg as a possibility. But don't think she agreed, either. Guess she knows, as does Cratsenberg, not to mention everyone else, that time will tell and that time will be state Nov. 13 and 14 at the Weyerhaueser King County Aquatic Center in Federal Way.

Only Joon Youm of Decatur ever has wrested that top swimming state honor from this area. So that tells you it's not easy to get it.

Cratsenberg swam for Neely's Marine Hills summer swim team for a number of years, like since she was a six year old.

"I love swimming for Marine Hills," said Cratsenberg. "I wish I did Marine Hills, I miss it. Just too much to do with club swimming and everything else. I just want to focus on my club team, VAST."

All the years of swimming, with help from Neely, her VAST coaches, helps Cratsenberg know the ropes. She knows swimming well, having competed for Marine Hills, for VAST and, being tops for state competitors in Washington, and, nationally, as Cratsenberg as well is right up there with junior national swimmers that are one step away from Olympic quality.

Cratsenberg does everything well in the water, but she has her nemesis’ -- one named Chelsea Bailey in the 100 and one up north named Alayna Pasavich in the 50.

If not for Bailey or Pasavich or some upstart sneaking in there, Cratsenberg is on the forefront of the best swimmers from this town and, who knows, may make for a nice spread on daily newspapers -- and internet papers like this one here -- come state time this Nov. 13-14.

"Chelsea Bailey," said Cratsenberg, knowing the name well. "I think Chelsea swims in the 49s."

So you're right there, close to that time, just not close to that time at this point in the season.

Pasavich is tough, too, no doubt.

"She is tough,” Cratsenberg said. “She is a club swimmer like I am. I see her in races in club."

Who wins? Did you beat her in club?

"I wouldn't say that," said Cratsenberg. "It switches off."

Winning state in one event, maybe two, and, who knows, maybe Coe, Huynh, Hogan, Bailey Warrior and others, will do something in relays with you, what will it take for you to get that recognition for yourself and your teammates?

"Have to have everything perfect," said Cratsenberg.

Cratsenberg swam a 55-second 100 free, which is far from her 50 second or so time from state. But that is OK, there is still over a month to go until state.

"I think I can get down to 50 and get my fastest time come state," she said.

Cratsenberg is having fun this high school season, a different kind of swimming than club.

"We play fun games and stuff," said Cratsenberg. "A lot different than club. We bond. We cheer each other, which we don't do for club swimming."

The Gators won only two events and in both the event winner was junior Kelsey Crowder, taking the 100 butterfly in 1:04.68 and the closest race of the night, the 100 backstroke, was a winner for Crowder, too. She edged TJ's Janice Huynh, 1:03.12 to 1:03.37. Huynh won the 200 free, to note, in 2:14.89.

Crowder is a club swimmer for King Aquatics and swam tough at state last year, getting to the consolation round (top 16) in the 100 individual medley and 100 breaststroke.

Crowder is fast in the water like Cratsenberg, but in her own way. She is best with the technique swims.

"I'm not really a sprinter," said Crowder. "More middle distance."

What’s this year's goal?

"Hopefully I can place top eight," she said.

Crowder mentioned she's close in the 200 IM to qualifying for state.

"I'm a second off," she said.

And Crowder has already made qualification for state in the 100 back.

There was diving going on at this meet, too, and the best diving came from Raider freshman Monica Church with 210.50 points. Coming in second was Angela Hansen, who took 16th at state last year as a junior and was 16th as a freshman.

The Church girl, and her sister soon to be mentioned, have good athletic blood in them as dad, Mike, coaches the successful boys baseball team in the springtime and their brother, Eric, was a good ballplayer as well as a state bound cross country runner a few years back.

Old Federal Way high schools’ revered, knowledgable diving coach, Tim Fraychineaud, left for a teaching job in Alaska. He's coached many swimmers to state, including his son, Tommy, who did well there last year and would do well this year but for being in Klondike country now.

"He was a great coach," said Hansen.

So there is a new coach for FW schools now, and she is one with the name of Kelly Robertson.

"She was an Olympian (1984 and 1988)," said Hansen. "Kelly really gets it, like the small details. She cares for the small details. "Board work, entries and form throughout the dive."

Robertson could have a few swimmers get to state from this area including Shelby Church (third this meet with 179.40 points), who is Monica's twin sister. There’s also sophomore Madison Kellar (fourth with 172.75 points), who is a level 10 gymnast trying diving.

Level 10 is very high. Most gymnasts that win state are a level 9 or level 10 club level gymnast.

Kellar should make waves in another sport this winter for longtime TJ gymnastics coach Debi Hunter.

"It's like arm positions, and technique (in diving)," said Kellar of the difference. "I am not really used to it."

But she's already garnering good scores -- good enough that Hansen thinks Kellar, along with the Church twins, could all go to state.

"She's (Kellar) is doing well, and has improved a lot," said Hansen. "All three of them take risks."

Besides Crowder's wins for Decatur, Tory Shermacher won the 500 free for her Gators in 6:49.11.

Decatur coach Russ Neal does not have the firepower like Neely, but he has what he has and he likes what it is coming for the future.

"We have a lot of freshmen. We have a bright future," said Neal. "We have Tory Shermacher and Tory Snyder who are freshmen now. It's a building year. We are getting our numbers up, just teaching people how to swim."

Briley and Alyssa Boggs gave the Gators some good state talent, to name a couple, but they are both gone, so the new ones must be working hard to get the Gators a good number (top 10) at state.

"No more Boggs," said Neal, agreeing with mention of their two names. "We need some new ones. That is why we are hopeful about the freshmen. A lot of hard work needs to go forth but there is a lot of talent there."

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