There's this certain synergy shifting around the Sunset girls swimming team — you can feel floating around the Apollos' home pool from swimmer to swimmer.
This season is one that's been in the making for years. The stars both literally and figuratively have aligned for the Apollos to make the kind of memorable run during the regular season and postseason meets. Juniors Alayna Connor, Lindsay Swail and Angie Lindsay and senior Kate Westlake head a team that didn't lose one senior off last year's squad that finished second at the Class 6A state championship meet. And driving it all is this team-wide swagger that's palpable from the starting blocks to the water to outside of the pool.
Perpetually nipping at Jesuit's heels the past three years and veiled in the Crusaders largely casted shadow, the Apollos believe their primed for pole position in the Metro League and hopefully more.
"I'm so excited for this year, I just have so much confidence in our team," Westlake said. "We have a whole lot of potential. Everyone's a year older, faster and training harder. Coming off of last year, we're all just so fired up. We now see that it is possible to win."
"I think we're better than we were last year," Connor said. "Everybody was really excited to come back this season. We already had a lot of depth going on, but now we really have some high scorers."
Sunset won its second dual meet of the season on Jan. 5, taking down Westview 108-62 at the Sunset Swimming Center, to set up a huge square-off with the Crusaders on Tuesday in what could possibly decide who wins the Metro regular season championship. As opposed to the past couple of seasons when Jesuit and Sunset each went without key entrants due to a scheduling conflict with a high profile club meet in Washington, both programs will have their full lineups in action for a better reflection of where each squad stands at this point of the season.
"Honestly my goal as a senior, in my last year, is just to beat Jesuit," said Westlake. "That would be a dream come true. I have so much faith in these girls and I know we're capable. I know Jesuit lost some of their good swimmers from last year. They have a lot of depth, but we have the speed and have what it takes to pull it off. If everyone steps up, I think we can do it."
"Its gonna be a fight," Lindsay said.
The Wildcats were led by sophomore Natalie Kayfes who won the 200 individual medley (2:16) and took second in the 500 free (5:30). Vivian Hua who finished second in the 100 breaststroke (1:14). Laila Kayfes finished third in the 100 free (59.25). Westview has more than 80 kids on the boys and girls teams combined and Kayfes said the positivity around the team is "high," even in the face of defeat to Sunset.
"We didn't give up," Laila Kayfes said. "We pushed each other and cared about second and third place. Everybody was cheering each other on and helping each other go faster each time. We have a big team that can build us up and go fast and we have really good coaches. I think we're a team that's gonna get noticed this year. Sunset is an intimidating team because they have a lot of good swimmers, but that just pushes us even more."
Westlake said Sunset, for all its star power and potential, is a "united" group that's just as cohesive away from the pool as it is competing together in the water. That chemistry, Westlake explained, is pivotal to claiming postseason hardware come February when districts and state get underway. Swail, Connor, Lindsay and Westlake won the 400 yard freestyle relay last year and set a state record in the process.
"The key is knowing you're not swimming for yourself, that you're swimming for everyone on this team and for them only," Westlake said. "If we don't lose sight of that, then the possibilities are limitless. I think that's what makes us such a great team. We love swimming for one another and with one another. We've never lost that connection and that's what makes it so fun and makes it easier to swim faster."
"All of us have relationships outside of the pool, so that helps us work together and know exactly what we want to achieve as a team," Lindsay added. "Instead of focusing on us individually, it's more about the group as a whole."
Freshmen Audrey Gingras and Tia Lindsay, the younger sister of Angie, each have brought an element of speed to already fast starting lineup. Tia Lindsay is capable of swimming any event needed whether it's the 200 individual medley, 100 backstroke or one of the shorter sprints. And, their lent talents were ushered in quickly by the Apollo upperclassmen in the preseason.
"We're trying to show them anything is possible if set your mind to something you really want," Westlake said. "I just want to do everything I can to make sure everyone has the best year possible."
Against Westview, Connor won the 200 free (1:59.21) and 100 backstroke (1:01) while Swail took top honors in the 50 free (24.93) and 100 butterfly (59.82) and Angie Lindsay won the 100 free (58.57).
Tia Lindsay (5:28) topped Natalie Kayfes in the 500 free and also took first in the 100 breaststroke (1:11).