After results took a little bit longer to find, the Federal Way Eagles boys swim and dive team was crowned all-city champions for the second year in a row.
It has been quite the rise for the Eagles aquatics team, which is in its third year under Head Coach Evangeline Munson.
“Stakes were pretty high because we did win it last year, so we had a title to defend. We’re a smaller team in comparison to the ones we are going against. My kids mention that all the time … My kids work really hard, dropped a lot of time and made a lot of improvements. So the size of the team didn’t have much to do with it,” Munson said.
Munson took over the program coming out of the pandemic, and in her first year, the Eagle boys placed dead last in the all-city meet.
“It is crazy because my freshman year we didn’t win anything, and look at us now. We won all-cities, we are moving through it,” senior Brandon Lo said.
Now, with one of the smaller swim teams in the district at 14, the Eagles are back-to-back champions of Federal Way.
“I was pretty confident in my kids’ ability to kill their events, and they did. We had so many personal records,” Munson said.
As a former swimmer, Munson has been able to connect with her swimmers in a unique way with unique drills: “I do a lot of research on training styles…There are different drills and techniques. I’ll show up with a new idea and the kids are like ‘oh no what is her new idea,’” Munson said.
Lo credits Munson with the success the Eagles have had over the years.
“She keeps us winning. Her strategies keep us winning. She has some crazy strategies,” Lo said.
The experiences that those drills provided really created a team atmosphere in an inherently individual sport, which is incredibly valuable to the Eagles.
“No matter who is in the water, a few things I prioritize are sportsmanship, team spirit and all of that. I don’t even have to say anything anymore because that is just the general vibe. We have become a family at this point,” Munson said.
“It is important to have that team and support system. Even though you are swimming your own event, doing your own thing, you have that support … It kind of motivates you to do more,” said Lo.
Federal Way was initially thought to be in a tie with Thomas Jefferson after the initial scores were counted in the Jan. 25 meet. But after a recount, the Eagles took the crown by just two points.
In the 14 events, Federal Way had five winners. Andrew Miller (200 IM, 100 Breaststroke), Brandon Lo (100 Freestyle), Christopher Lo (100 Backstroke) were the individual winners. The Eagles also won the 200 Freestyle relay at the all-city meet.
“I was pretty confident we could pull through,” Munson said.
Federal Way had 12 top-three finishers across 10 different races, a true team effort.
“Even though we are small, we still have that power,” Lo said
The true challenge came in the last race of the day, the 400 yard Freestyle relay, in which the Eagles took second. Anderson Vance was scheduled to be the third leg of the relay, but after his breaststroke race the event prior, he was feeling lightheaded and even threw up before it was his turn to race in the relay.
“I see my anchor Brandon, go up third and I was like ‘Oh no. What is happening. My timer/manager Alexis comes over and says Anderson is puking. So then I started freaking out and then I looked over and he’s on the block when it was his turn,” Munson said.
This was the true embodiment of a team, with a little bit of panic. Due to Vance having a tough time, a last-minute substitute ran over and was ready to take Vance’s place. But he was able to rally and get on the block.
“It was that race that made our all-city win. Seeing that in that moment, that is the team spirit that we got. No matter what, they gotta be there for each other. It gives me chills,” Munson added.
All-City is a special day for all Federal Way area swimmers — coaches and athletes understand that.
“It’s all within the community and they all know each other… It’s people they all know and they’re all getting to have fun and really try hard at something they love to do,” Munson said.
“It’s more about our rivalry with TJ. We have had this rivalry for years. Since we are no longer in the same division, we don’t have one-on-one meets. So, this is the only chance we have to get that competition between us,” Lo said
But the bragging rights and rivalry factor provide a bit more juice once the swimmers hit the water. With Federal Way being one of the smaller teams, they use some of that as motivation.
“Being a smaller team, a lot of progress the kids make is over the course of the season. Being a sport like swim, it needs a significant more amount of time in the pool… It’s a significant win for us because it can really show our strength,” Munson said.
Federal Way hasn’t had a swimmer take points in a state swim and dive event since 2018. James McDonald placed 14th in the 100 Breaststroke, giving the Eagles 3 points.
State is a big deal, but Munson doesn’t place that priority on her swimmers. She wants them to improve on things they control, but kids can’t help but compare themselves to other club swimmers in the district. Titus Graham has dropped over a minute in his high school career in his 500 yard Freestyle race. That is what Munson wants kids to focus on.
“The amount of effort that they are putting in on their own time is a whole other level of drive and commitment… They have to work twice as hard to get to that level. I have kids who are two seconds away from state. Considering the fact that they are so close is impressive,” she said.
“I want to focus on the actual progress. I know it is really easy for kids to get caught up in ‘I want to get to this meet,’ and it detracts from this 30 second drop. Let’s recognize that progress before we look at what meet you did get to. But you did the 30 second drop and that is insane,” Munson said.