Jackson embraces the process to forge success
Big dual meet with Kamiak on Jan. 22 will provide another step toward Timberwolves ultimate goal, a chance to compete for the state title down the road
By Doug Drowley
Special to the Seattle Times
At Jackson High, the swim programs thrive on a few simple premises.
One, it’s about the journey rather than the end result. Of course, Drew Whorley’s teams tend to find themselves at or near the top a lot these days.
And two, make sure everyone stays positive.
“You never know what you are going to say that these kids will hold onto for a couple of decades,” Whorley said. “Those moments may seem insignificant, but you want them to feel good about themselves.”
It’s a philosophy that Whorley held dear to last fall, when his girls team won the 4A title. And it’s a philosophy that currently has his Timberwolves boys thinking this winter could be special, as well.
By the time the boys state meet kicks off on Feb. 20 and 21 at King County Aquatic Center, Jackson’s journey could have it poised to pull off the same double Eric Bartleson’s Newport Knights accomplished in 4A a year ago.
“Don’t put that on me,” Whorley said concerning speculation that his boys team might have the stuff to win the title. “We’re not ready for that. I will say, I think this is the best boys team we’ve had since I’ve been at Jackson, partly because of the depth. That’s not something we’ve had.”
The Timberwolves have leadership, starting with senior captain Conner McGinnis. A five-time championship finalist and Top 8 placer in the 50 freestyle and 100 backstroke his first three seasons, McGinnis has a second-place state finish in the back as a sophomore to his credit.
“It’s always been a dream of mine to win a state title,” McGinnis said. “Definitely, that’s my ultimate goal.”
In what event that might come, McGinnis doesn’t know, however.
“I’m envisioning my lineup is going to be different at state this year,” McGinnis said.
In addition, Whorley has inherited a gaggle of talented freshmen, including John Cook, who already has state qualifying times in six events. Cook doesn’t yet know exactly what he will swim come the post-season, but he can feel the promise of this team.
“There’s a funny story with that, actually,” Cook said. “Even two years out, as a seventh-grader, my sister was telling me what a great freshman class we were going to have.”
Cook’s sister Francesca swam at Jackson but now is at the University of Washington. Her brother, along with fellow West Coast Aquatics Club mates Bryan Phung and Neal Thai, headline the group that will move Jackson going forward.
“It’ll be really interesting,” Kamiak coach Chris Erickson said. “to see if Jackson has enough to get it done.”
Erickson has more immediate concerns with the Timberwolves, namely a Thursday, Jan. 22, dual meet date at Jackson. Erickson’s Kamiak team is expected to enter with a 101-meet win streak on the line.
For Whorley’s team there is very little pressure associated with that dual meet, but the Timberwolves certainly are aware of the implications.
“Our focus, it’s on us,” Whorley said. “We try not to over-emphasize any meet. So let’s race. Let’s go. In the end, it’s small potatoes compared to what we’re trying to do.”
Still, the Kamiak-Jackson meet that will be held at the West Coast Aquatics pool at 2:30 p.m. will provide both squads something of a measuring stick just two weeks before the post-season begins.
“What we’re all thinking is to just go for it,” McGinnis said. “Who knows what can happen. But I love the hype that this is bringing to our sport of swimming.”
Ultimately, Jackson will use the Kamiak meet as another step on the journey, a chance to get better as the season advances.
“I don’t really have a frame of reference, but I feel like we have a good team,” Cook said. “We’re definitely getting that feeling that we are putting swims together.”
“Our goal is just to get better this week than we were last week,” Whorley said. “Generally, we are at our best at the end of the year. These guys have more potential positives than I even know of right now.”
Whether those positive will transform into a run at a state title, Whorley doesn’t know.
“Having the inkling that that is doable is impressive,” Whorley said of his team’s mindset. “What the girls did, it’s a totally different animal. But understanding something like that is realistic, it certainly increases the likelihood of something like that happening.”