6A swimming — NHS roars to second place, sending four individuals in five events and all three relays to this weekends state championships

McMINNVILLE — Newberg knew it would be difficult to match rival McMinn­ville’s depth at the Pacific Conference boys district championship meet Saturday, but if its top guns could push their Grizzlies counterparts, it would bode well for the Tigers.

Not only were Craig Beecher, Corbin Day, Bjorn Larsen and David Flores Juarez up to the challenge, but the rest of the squad delivered when called upon, powering the Tigers to a strong second-place finish behind McMinn­ville.

The Grizzlies ran away with the meet, scoring 459 points, but Newberg totaled 337 points to finish well ahead of third-place Century and will send four individuals in five events and all three relays to this weekend’s state championships at Mount Hood Community College. by: SETH GORDON - Tops - Junior Craig Beecher accepts the first-place medal in the 100-meter breaststroke from NHS coach George Sampson Saturday in McMinnville.

“When we started the season, our goal was to be top four in the state,” head coach George Sampson said. “In order to do that, we said that we had to stay as close to McMinnville as we can. The boys knew it was a big meet and everybody stepped up and swam very, very well.”

Beecher was slowed by a poor turn in the 50 freestyle and finished a disappointing third in 26.96 seconds, but was on top of his game for his signature event, the 100 breaststroke.

Shooting to break the one-minute mark for the first time ever, the junior came just about as close as mathematically possible to attaining his goal in setting a new personal record at 1:00.01 and cruised to his second consecutive district title.

“When I get in there, I just let my body take over, shut off my brain, block out everything and just swim as fast as I can,” Beecher said. “When I hit the wall and looked up at the board, I was really proud of what I saw. I’ve never swam that fast before, so it felt good.”

Senior Corbin Day was disappointed he couldn’t defend his 100 freestyle district title, finishing second in 49.39, but swam in Newberg’s three state-qualifying relays, all of which placed second.

The 400 free relay was especially exciting as the Tigers could not catch event winner McMinnville, but finished in 3:17.83 to hold off Century, which took third in a state-qualifying time of 3:18.24.

“(Larsen) did great right off the bat,” Beecher said. “He always takes the hard shot doing the flat start and he really starts faster, so props to him. Spencer (McMaster) did his job and (Day) came up real big, swam a great race.

Juarez, a junior, had an excellent race in the 500 freestyle, finishing second in a new personal-best time of 4:52.96, but also scored key points by placing third in the 200 free (1:49.12).

Larsen took third in his specialty event, the 100 butterfly, and his time of 54.32 was good enough to earn a wild-card bid to state.

Equally important to the second place finish, though, were the top-eight finishes by Newberg’s next tier of racers, like Seth Miller taking fifth in both the 200 and 500 freestyles.

“We’ve always been strong in sprints, but the guys in the 200 and 500 stepped up and scored us a lot of points that we don’t normally score at Newberg,” Sampson said. “That truly was the difference between a second- and a third-place finish.”

While the Tigers were mentally prepared for districts, they were not physically primed to perform at their absolute best. That won’t be the case, though, at the state meet, where they will be fully rested.

“We’re not fully tapered, so it will be fun at state to swim all these races,” Day said.

Capping off a difficult rebuilding season, the Newberg girls finished eighth with 128 points. Among the highlights were Elizabeth Andrew’s fifth-place showing in the 50 free (26.06) and the 200 free relay team’s fifth-place finish (1:48.23)

“The team rose up and swam their best at the last meet of the season,” Sampson said. “Even though we finished last and didn’t win a dual meet, they finished on a real positive note with a lot of people getting two or three personal bests for the meet.”

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