Forest Grove senior Gabe Rooker wins two individual state titles, including his third straight championship in the 100 breaststroke
by: Chase Allgood Forest Grove senior Gabe Rooker swims to his third consecutive state title in the 100-yard breaststroke at Saturday’s Class 6A state swimming championships in Gresham. Rooker also won a state title in the 50-yard freestyle.

Gabe Rooker awakened Thursday morning to a minor disaster. His throat was sore, his nose was running. It was undeniable. He had the common cold.

If Rooker was like most high school students, he could have parlayed the cold into getting out of school for the day. But Rooker was just one day away from swimming for Forest Grove High in the OSAA Class 6A state swim meet.

'It was nothing serious,' Rooker says. 'But, I woke up Thursday morning and I was feeling down about getting a sore throat.'

By the time Rooker got to the Mt. Hood Community College pool on Saturday to swim the finals for the 50-yard freestyle and the 100 breaststroke, he was still sniffling. For the most part, though, Rooker's breathing was fine.

'I had a sniffle here and there when I was at the pool,' Rooker says. 'A little bit of congestion, but besides that, my airway was clear, so I was able to breath well. That's what really mattered to me.'

Rooker accomplished his first mission on Saturday when he captured the state championship in the 50 free with a time of 21.31 seconds, which was more than a half second faster than the runner-up.

The LSU-bound senior could not rest on that state championship, though.

Rooker had won the 100 breaststroke as a sophomore and again as a junior. Last year, he won the event with a time of 56.58, which was .07 seconds slower than the state meet record of 56.51.

Three weeks later, at the Northwest Senior Sectionals with his Tualatin Hills Swim Club, Rooker swam the 100 breaststroke in 56.02.

'That's the ironic part,' Rooker says. 'I beat the record and I was wondering, 'Why wasn't I doing that three weeks ago?''

Rooker has broken the 56.51 mark several times since then, but he had not done it in a meet that would have put his name in the OSAA record books.

As he lined up for the finals of the 100 breaststroke on Saturday, Rooker wanted the record badly.

Rooker annihilated the field, finishing almost two full seconds ahead of his nearest competition, but his time of 57.03 was not enough for the state record.

As Rooker stood in the water at the finish line, he did not know how to process the emotions coursing through his body. He had failed to set the state record, but for the first time in his career he had won two individual state championships, and he had successfully defended the state title in his signature event.

'I didn't know what emotion to respond with after I finished the race,' Rooker says. 'I just got two firsts and I did really well in the 50 free, but I didn't get the record in the 100 breast. I couldn't figure out what to do.'

Finally, with business left unfinished, Rooker simply climbed out of the water and walked away from the pool for the final time as a Viking swimmer.

Forest Grove swim coach Paul Waterstreet says that as disappointed as Rooker was, winning two state championships, including achieving a three-peat in the 100 breaststroke, was an accomplishment Rooker should feel proud of.

'Anytime you win two state championships in one year, that's all you can do,' Waterstreet says. 'You can't win any more than two. Individually he won two out of two. I know he really wanted the state record. But how can you be disappointed with two state championships?'

Rooker also participated in the 200 medley relay and the 200 freestyle relay. Both relay teams got into the state meet as wild cards. The medley relay team of Rooker, Paul O'Day, Charles Morse and Tim Sandage finished 13th. The freestyle relay team, consisting of the same swimmers, placed 16th.

'They improved their medley relay times and their 200 freestyle relay was just a tenth (of a second) slower than their best time,' Waterstreet says. 'They did well. They were wild cards and long shots to move up. They went and swam their best times and other teams were just faster. So they did just fine.'

Morse also competed in the 500 freestyle. After swimming his best time of the season at the district meet two weeks ago, he swam around his season average at the state meet, coming in 14th with a time of 5:04.08.

'He did fine,' Waterstreet says. 'At districts he swam a really good race and went in at 4:58. Then he did a 5:04 at state which is not his best, but it's what he's been swimming all year long. We were hoping for better, but it just wasn't quite there for state.'

Vera Hutchison took ninth place in the 200 individual medley with a time of 2:15.38 and 14th in the 100 butterfly with a time of 1:03.17.

'She went from the 200 IM and they changed the amount of rest time that she was going to get, so she never really recovered from the IM to do what she wanted in the fly,' Waterstreet says. 'She was still tired. She still had a good swim, she did well, but she didn't have her best. She needed another half an hour to get rested. But she went out there and gave it a great shot and did well.'

Had conditions aligned differently, the Vikings swimmers may have come away from the state meet with better results, but Waterstreet was proud of everything his swimmers accomplished.

'Except for two swims everybody had best times,' Waterstreet says. 'They did really well all the way through.'

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