Valley Catholic's boys make the 4A/3A/2A/1A state meet a success Saturday at Mt. Hood CC
by: JAIME VALDEZ, FLY GUY — Valley Catholic’s Josh Hammes catches some air during his leg of the 200-yard medley relay.

GRESHAM - While Valley Catholic placed fifth at Class 4A/3A/2A/1A state boys swimming meet, the best may be yet to come for the Valiants.

Four underclassmen compiled 24.5 points in six events for Valley Catholic during Saturday's meet at the Mt. Hood Community College Aquatic Center. The Valiants did not crown any individual champions, but did finish as the runner-up in three races, including the meet-opening 200-yard medley relay.

With a state qualifier in all four strokes, Valley Catholic's medley relay team concluded a strong season in which it consistently broke the school record culminating with Saturday's time of 1 minute, 47.50 second.

'We knew our relays would do pretty well,' said junior Wes Lindstrom, who swam on the medley relay team that placed 12th in 2006. 'Our first meet of the season, we went faster then we did at state last year. Every time we swam it was a new school record.'

'The best part is no one is graduating so we have that same team next year,' said junior John Drew.

The Valiants entered the meet with the No. 1 seed time and clocked the second-fastest time in Friday's preliminaries. They were sitting in fourth after freshman Ben Blankenmeister's opening backstroke leg before Lindstrom's strong breaststroke leg moved them into a slim lead.

Cottage Grove overtook Valley Catholic during freshman Josh Hammes' butterfly leg and held off a charge by Drew in the freestyle anchor to win the event by 0.4 seconds in 1:47.10 en route to the overall boys team title.

Hammes placed in a pair of events for the Valiants, taking second in the 50 freestyle and sixth in the 100 butterfly. Swimming against three seniors and two juniors, Hammes introduced himself to the state meet with the runner-up finish in the 50 free in 23.17.

The freestyle sprinter was happy with his place, but not necessarily his time.

'The last two months I've been trying for a 22,' Hammes said. 'It's really frustrating me. It's a good time, but not for me. I'm so close to breaking 23. I feel like it's there. I just haven't gotten it out.'

While Hammes' strength lies in the sprint freestyle races, he also made the championship finals in the 100 butterfly, placing sixth with a time of 58.35. Hammes was fourth at the halfway point before sliding, though he still set a personal record and knocked nearly a second off his preliminary time.

'The last 50 I actually felt pretty good,' Hammes said. 'I got psyched out when they got ahead of me. Swimming is 80 percent mental and 20 percent physical. I was scared and mentally had that block.'

Lindstrom had almost the opposite take place in the 100 breaststroke. While concentrating on staying as close as he could to the eventual winner, Lindstrom didn't notice Junction City's Kienan Brotherton closing in on him. Still, Lindstrom managed to touch in first and place second behind Andy Ottolia of Blanchet Catholic (1:01.12) with a time of 1:05.48.

'I didn't see him at all,' Lindstrom said of Brotherton, who finished third in 1:05.74. 'I kept looking at Lane 3 (Ottolia). I looked at the board (after the race) and was surprised it was so close. I had no idea.'

With beating three-time state champion Ottolia a daunting task, Lindstrom was more than happy to finish as the runner-up a year after placing fifth as a sophomore. Pushed by Ottolia, Lindstrom managed a new personal best and school record, breaking the mark of 1:05.89 he set at last year's meet.

'I knew I couldn't win it. He's so fast,' Lindstrom said. 'If I'm the fastest one out there, I can't push myself very well. If there's someone faster, then I race faster.'

Drew matched his preliminary time (and personal best) in the 100 freestyle and also that of La Grande's Erich Mielke to finish tied for fifth place in 52.55. Drew brought the No. 7 seed time into the meet, but moved up a spot and into the championship finals after shaving 0.79 seconds off his seed time in the prelims.

'To get into the finals, yeah, I was a little surprised,' Drew said. 'I was pumped the whole race. I left it all in the pool.'

Valley Catholic's team of Lindstrom, sophomore Max Brady, Hammes and Drew also qualified for the finals in the 200 freestyle, placing sixth in 1:36.00.

The Valiants' girls team qualified two relays and five individuals to the state meet, but none made it to the championship finals.

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