Camaraderie, Depth, and Winning

Hazen Boy’s Swim and Their Success Beyond the Records
Camaraderie, Depth, and Winning

“Swimming sucks. Like it’s not a fun sport to do.” James Nguyen, Junior, one of three captains for the Hazen Boy’s Swim team this past season, says. “But the people, they’re really supportive and they push me and they make me laugh and it’s fun to be around them. [So] I think I swim for the people.” 

   Hazen Boy’s Swim had quite a lot happening within its 30-person team this past season, which ran from November 2022 to February 2023.

   Joseph Tseng, a freshman, has noticed another effect. “I can study more, [and] concentrate, after swimming.” He also joined because “there’s a good atmosphere at this school. Everybody’s very supportive.”

   Dylan Doan is a Junior and lined up to be a captain next year. “To be honest I was kind of forced to swim,” he says, “but I’ve been swimming since I was a little kid.”

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   Each swimmer has their own reason for showing up, but what ties them all together is how the captains and coaches shape the team experience; through healthy competition, respect, and positivity.

   Seniors, Griffin Dickman and Evan Braun are the other team captains. Griffin: “I quit my club team. I’d gotten what I wanted out of swimming and I just hit that wall.” 

   “I love this sport,” he says. “I love this team. I love these people. But at the end of the day, I just knew for myself I had gotten what I needed to. So, going into high school [the season], I really wanted to work on other people and make sure they had the experiences they wanted.”

   Josh Goulter, a freshman, bonded closely with Griffin this season and had some new techniques to teach him. “I like to swim freestyle,” he says. 

Photo Courtesy Griffin Dickman

   Lynn Gerking has been Head Coach of Boy’s Swim team for five years. “I wanted to coach high school because I loved my high school coach. She was a big part of my life growing up and just the impact she made…I wanted to make sure that the kids [here] had a good positive high school experience.” As for swimming itself, “I just have always done it and I’m good at it…It’s one of those sports that’s a lifetime sport. You can always do it wherever you are. If you’re hurt, you can still swim.”

   In 2019, Griffin’s “freshman year, the seniors wore speedos, and it was a joke, but it also showed they were confident; they didn’t care.” His experience as an underclassman has shaped who he is as a leader. “You get confident from seeing other people being confident. Being able to be kind of silly, make jokes, and admit when you’re wrong, like yeah, I messed up…you don’t always have to do that perfect or you don’t have to be this big, tough macho thing. You can be silly and goofy.”

   A common acknowledgment on the team, according to Griffin, is “Look at what you’re wearing in swimming. You’re shirtless and you have tight shorts on…You’re very vulnerable. You have to be open and you can’t take it too seriously because you’re spending all this time together…you just naturally have that connection and closeness with each other.”

   Joseph, in his first year, enjoyed the nature of the team. “I like their sense of humor sometimes. And they’re cool. They’re friendly. They’re hospitable…We go to meals together, we gather around after practice and talk about things not about swimming.” After State, Joseph says “We went to Owen’s house and we played video games until midnight.”

   James says, “I feel like there’s something a little unique to Hazen. I’ve seen teams where it’s just the fast people and the slow people, and the upperclassmen and the underclassmen. But Hazen is…we’re all together. [And] I feel like it’s always been like that.”

   “Sometimes swimming is an island of misfit toys,” says Coach Gerking, meaning “a very eclectic group…we have the full gamut and everybody’s inclusive and they go out to dinner after every meet.”

   Dylan recounted; “I went out with some teammates and we got Wingstop, Crumble Cookies, Dick’s drive-in food, and El Riconsito in like one night and the next morning, I felt it, it was…well, it wasn’t good.”

   Coach Gerking has one policy. “You don’t have to like each other, but you have to be nice to each other. You have to respect each other…So my rule is everybody’s invited.” 

   Josh Goulter, who has Down Syndrome (his “power chromosome,” as he likes to call it), began the season quite differently than he ended it. “A long time ago, I am nervous, but now I am not nervous.” He had prior swimming experience but was scared of the deep end. Now, he says he likes swimming and being in the water, especially “in the deep end.” Griffin says by the end of the season he and Josh were having underwater tea parties, and that Josh “was so confident and comfortable.”

   Josh says his favorite part of the season was “racing with Griffin…and Owen [Gerking, sophomore]. I’m not defeated.” Coach Gerking confirms; “Josh got really competitive with Griffin and wanted to race him every day.” Griffin sources the rivalry’s records: “He did win every single time.” In fact, at the end-of-season banquet, Josh received the Undefeated Award.

   Another aspect for Griffin, who wants to coach swim someday: Josh “uses these pull buoys and uses that to help show how you can breathe.” The ways Griffin learned are “ingrained in my head. Seeing someone else do it that way was really—it gave me a new perspective.” Griffin got excited talking about teaching with this technique; “That’s genius, that’s literally genius…we’re going to start using that and implementing that.”

   Josh brought fresh excitement wherever he went. “I loved having Josh on the team,” says Griffin. “Every day he walked into practice with a purpose. He had that bounce in his step, he was determined…He’d do every single set, he worked hard…He was always Josh and Josh was Josh.” 

   “He never missed a practice,” said Coach Gerking. Pretty sure he had one of our highest attendance rates.” She continues, that the team “would make sure Josh was included in the cheer circle…He’s just on the team, he’s just Josh. It was seamless.” Josh’s favorite parts of the season were racing Griffin, the bus rides to meets, and the meets themselves. “I like cheering,” he says.

   The team was inclusive in many ways, support being a big one. Joseph, a freshman, mentioned this. “My friend Trevor, he’s on diving…everybody just sits around the block and cheers him on. So even though he’s diving, they still cheer.” This is something the team strives for, and something Dylan wants to continue encouraging as captain next year. “I want the team to cheer each other on. People may think it’s not that important, but when you’re swimming and you see a bunch of your friends cheering for you it just motivates you more.”

   These values in our Boy’s Swim team would not be persistent without its leaders championing them. Dylan says “The captains, they always tell us to respect the pool and the swimmers…we don’t ever talk smack, unless they talk smack first.”

   In fact, Hazen Boy’s Swim won the KingCo Sportsmanship Award last year. They were nominated by coaches from across the league’s schools.

   Dylan also mentions the coaches. “Coach Lynn, Coach Kevin, they probably understand me better [than club coaches did.] They understand us because we’re also high school swimmers. We’re students, we have lives.”

   Coach Lynn and Assistant Coach Kevin assign captains, after input from the current leaders and from observations throughout the season. “We need someone who is willing to parent the group, someone who is going to get stuff done,” says Coach Gerking. “We don’t take a vote. I don’t want it to be a popularity contest because I don’t think a popular person makes a good leader…and the fastest swimmer doesn’t make the best captain.”

   Joseph says “All the captains are very willing to talk to us.” His perspectives on them: Griffin, “He sometimes gave a speech after practice, which is pretty helpful and very motivating for us…he drove me every single night. He’s a really good driver…Griffin takes a lot of people. If we have a meal, he will take five or six swimmers, freshmen and sophomores. That’s what I have to learn from, if I want to be captain.”

   Joseph continues, “James is one of the captains too and he is…more like a quiet person, he’s really nice…he does things not in front of people…he doesn’t speak a lot, but he cares about me…He’s a really great captain.”

   James himself “was a little nervous going into the year about being a captain. But I think the senior captains, Evan and Griffin, really helped me grow into the role.” His strength is that “I am aware of the techniques and the mindsets that you need to have to be a good swimmer, so I’m able to pass that along to inexperienced swimmers or younger swimmers.”

   As for Evan Braun, Joseph says “Evan is supportive, he’s just being supportive.” Dylan says “he always had those motivating speeches.”

   Though every person interviewed agreed the team spirit and camaraderie were a success in and of itself, you can’t talk about Hazen Boy’s Swim without talking about the relay team and their records.

   Griffin recounts how it came together. “Me, Dylan, Andrew [Nguyen (11)] and Owen [Gerking]…the four of us, we all kind of were competitive.” The team formed in the 2021 season, when Owen was a freshman, Andrew and Dylan were sophomores, and Griffin was a junior. “That’s where we started, and we just really started seeing progress with it. And we got along really well, we hung out after school and at practice…We just had a really good connection and I think that did connect over. My junior year we randomly broke a record. We were just trying to make a state cut.”

   That season, the swimmers and coaches realized, as Griffin put it, “We have a lot of potential with this group. We all kind of went off over the break and worked on ourselves to get faster. And when we came back [this past season] we were able to have much more success. We had coaches calling us a program, we were up there competing with Mercer Island and Bellevue.” The four swimmers compete in a 4×100 freestyle, 4×50 freestyle, and 4×50 medley (each swims different stroke styles). “We got third at state for both our relays and broke three records, one was ours from last year [the medley], one was 27 years old [from 1996, for the 4×50 freestyle] and one was 41 years old [from 1982, for the 4×100 freestyle].”

   Griffin says being bonded with relay teammates means “you know how they swim and how to translate it and you know how to work with them. You know what their strengths are, what their weaknesses are. You also knew when one of us was having a bad day, you knew when we weren’t going to give it our all or just couldn’t give it our all and you know we have to help this person keep going because we need to do it for each other…On days where I was just, like, ’I want to quit,’ I just kept going for those three other guys.”

   On Griffin’s first day of State this past season, “I was having a horrible day. And so I did really bad, but they made up for it. It was nice to see that they were able to take care of where I was lacking that day…not even communicating that, they just knew.”

He broadens to speaking about the entire team. “We’re here for each other. You’re not racing for yourself, you’re racing for each other. I think a way we really accomplish that is we do a lot of team bonding. Every single meet we go out and do something as a team. We just pile kids in the car, we go out places and you know…yes, we mess around.”

   “Us four, [Griffin, Dylan, Andrew, and Owen,] we did get a lot of points, we did go individually, but we could not have done it without the rest of the team.” Griffin goes on. “You can have these fast swimmers, but they’re not going to do everything, you need everyone and that’s how you win meets…If you’re only focused on the fast ones, you’re going to have a major drop off, and then it just makes a disconnect in the team.”

   Near everyone interviewed shares this mindset. Dylan says “Swimming is an individual sport, right? But it takes a team to win. It takes a team to come together.” The way meets are scored, the more people entered for a team increases their chances of scoring points. “So we actually did really well,” Coach Gerking says, “having such a small number of guys attending state to score as well as we did. We had more guys in the postseason than we’ve ever had.”

   Nine Hazen swimmers went to state this year, almost a third of the team. The team consisted of Griffin Dickman, Andrew Nguyen, James Nguyen, Dylan Doan, Owen Gerking, Christian Lubong, sophomore, Joseph Tseng, Josh Goulter, and Evan Braun (as non-competing “team mom”). Josh competed in the adaptive 50-meter freestyle race, and placed 6th. “It was great having him,” says Coach Gerking. “I think the boys really kind of got into it.” Griffin says “he dropped a lot. He dropped five seconds at state in the 50-free which is really hard to do.” Before State, Griffin talked to Josh. “I was like, ’are you ready? Are you nervous?’ He’s like, ‘No, I’m going to win.’” Josh confirmed this: “No, I’m not nervous,” for competitions. According to Josh, Griffin would get nervous before racing him, though.

   Given the chance to shout out their teammates, the swimmers had a lot to say.

 

   Dylan:

   “From this year’s captains, I realized that they do a lot of work. They do a lot of stuff—more than I thought. I don’t think I could be a better captain than those from this year, but I’ll be my own captain…I’ll probably make them do push-ups.”

   “Christian Lubong…He has the potential to be a great swimmer.”

   “Andrew Nguyen, he’s like my best friend.” 

   “James will be a good captain next year, probably better than me, probably more responsible.”

   “Owen, has a good future in swimming, he’ll be a good captain.”

   “And then Evan Braun.”

 

   Griffin:

   “There’s a lot of kids who just really improved a lot, like Javier [Shoel, sophomore] went to leagues for the first time, Kieren [Adamson, sophomore] dropped a lot of time…we just had a lot of people really step up and we had a smaller team because we were at Lindbergh, we didn’t have our own pool, so people’s morale was already kind of low. And we had to really kind of rely on each other. Christian and Joseph, freshman and sophomore [respectively], both went to state and competed really well.”

 

   James:

   “Jaden Pham, he’s a sophomore. And he joined the team this year and I just see a lot of leadership qualities that some of the upperclassmen told me I had when I was a freshman…He knows what he’s doing…he’s pretty responsible. And the team likes that and I think he should push that and grow more as a leader next year.”

   “Dylan Doan, I’m proud of him because there was a bit of a situation, but Dylan handled it really, really well…I was really proud of Dylan for that and I think that’s part of the reason why we chose him to be captain for next year.”

   “Griffin, he always gave rides to the underclassmen and you know, I tried too, and giving rides is kind of a lot sometimes, taking five other kids home, and they all live in different houses and neighborhoods…Griffin really stepped up when it came to that.”

 

   Joseph:

   “I think Christian improved a lot in this season. At first, I thought ‘he’s in the same speed as mine.’ But after the season, He improved a lot more than mine.”

 

   As for Josh, Coach Gerking says “he’s super happy and he wants to come back next year, he gave me a thumbs-up!” Josh confirmed this.

   “It was a really great season,” says James, “and next year is going to be even more fun because we have a new pool. So I would say if you’re reading this, I think you should join the swim team!” Coach Gerking wants you to know “It’s a no-cut sport, which is a nice opportunity at Hazen. You don’t have to necessarily know how to swim. We can help with that.”

   As Joseph said, Hazen Boy’s Swim is a team of hospitality. Students with a lot of heart, and compassionate leaders shaped this tight-knit team. Anyone who shows up is welcomed; those who spoke “swim for the people”, after all.

   Griffin says, “To be captain or be a leader or be the most involved in the team, you don’t have to be the fastest. We’ve had seniors be a big part of the team, but they’re not necessarily scoring the most amount of points. They’re not going to some of the other postseason meets, but they’re still there every day competing and working with everyone.”

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