As soon as Claire Schaef wrapped up her junior swim season at Richland High School, she was ready to leap into holiday baking.
Her biggest undertaking so far has been four kinds of bread for Thanksgiving, plus four kinds of pie: pumpkin, pecan, blackberry cobbler and chocolate.
Next on her list is making Christmas cookies.
“I’ve never done icing before, but I’ve always wanted to try that,” she said.
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In the pool, Schaef has just as much ambition. It’s one reason why she was selected as the Tri-City Herald All-Area Girls Swimmer of the Year for the third consecutive season.
At the Class 4A state meet in November in Federal Way, Schaef placed third in the 500-yard freestyle and fourth in the 200 free. She has finished no lower than third in the 500 and fifth in the 200 at state.
Schaef set meet records in both events at October’s Mukilteo Invitational in Federal Way and at last month’s 4A District 4/5 competition in Kelso.
“I definitely think Mukilteo was my best meet,” Schaef said. “I kind of went into it and was really relaxed. Everything kind of fell into place. It was a low-stress meet for me because I’d already qualified for state.”
Schaef was named the Mid-Columbia Conference’s swimmer of the year for the first time. She was a first-team pick in the 200 and 500 free, and she was part of the first-team 200 medley and 400 free relays.
“She approaches everything with a highly positive attitude and a really good work ethic,” Richland coach Wes Bratton said. “I tried really hard to challenge her with a few sets here and there. She responded to those very nicely in terms of attitude, effort and actual performance during practice. She also showed good leadership skills throughout the year, helping to keep the girls focused and always willing to work hard and do whatever it took.”
This year, Schaef set a school record of 1 minute, 54.01 seconds in the 200 free state final, and she also owned the MCC’s fastest times in the 500 free (5:03.66), 200 individual medley (2:15.87) and 100 butterfly (1:01.29). But she was disappointed about not being able to break 5 minutes in the 500. The top two swimmers at state were timed in 4:51.00 and 4:59.27, while Schaef touched the wall in 5:04.02.
Schaef said Bratton kept her motivation up when her times wouldn’t go down.
“He talked to me about how it happens sometimes where you get stuck at a certain time and you just can’t drop any more, and he was helping me work through it,” Schaef said. “With my 500, he was helping me feel better about how I wasn’t quite where I wanted to be.”
Bratton doesn’t think Schaef will have to wait much longer to bust through the 5-minute barrier.
“Although the 500 hasn’t hit yet, I’m 100 percent confident in her next meet, she’s gonna break 5 minutes, no problem,” Bratton said. “It’s there, just gotta pull it all together, and had state not been the emotional roller coaster that high school state can be for the girls, I think she goes that time in a heartbeat.”
Schaef’s training has evolved under Bratton, who just completed his first season as the Bombers’ coach.
“He’s helped me with some parts of my swims that other coaches haven’t even tried to help me with, like my turns,” Schaef said.
Bratton knew he was taking over a program steeped in a winning tradition when he assumed the Richland reins from longtime coach Randy Willis. So far, so good for Bratton, who led the Bombers to MCC and district titles, as well as a 10th-place finish at state. For that, he was chosen as the Tri-City Herald All-Area Girls Swimming Coach of the Year.
Bratton said he had a lot to learn this year, but the veteran MCC coaches were willing teachers.
“They were all extremely helpful, as the newbie on the block — ‘Hey, you need to do this, you need to watch out for this,’ and making sure I executed appropriately within some of the minor technical things I may not have known as a first-year coach,” he said.
Richland landed four athletes on the All-Area girls swim and dive first team: Schaef, Marcia Kim, Neomi Mennetrot and diver Alyssa Whittington. Walla Walla swimmers Paige Gardner and Hally Ruff also made the first team along with Hanford’s Kjerstyn Jordheim and Megan Gelston, Southridge’s Hilary Petersen and Kamiakin’s Madison Thurber. Schaef, Gardner, Gelston and Thurber appeared on last year’s All-Area first team.
2016 TRI-CITY HERALD ALL-AREA GIRLS SWIMMING/DIVING
Swimmer of the Year: Claire Schaef, jr., Richland. Coach of the Year: Wes Bratton, Richland.
First team: Claire Schaef, jr., Richland; Marcia Kim, jr., Richland; Neomi Mennetrot, jr., Richland; Madison Thurber, sr., Kamiakin; Hilary Petersen, so., Southridge; Megan Gelston, jr., Hanford; Kjerstyn Jordheim, fr., Hanford; Paige Gardner, jr., Walla Walla; Hally Ruff, jr., Walla Walla. Diver: Alyssa Whittington, jr., Richland.
Second team: Maddie Elliott, jr., Hanford; Kayla Burck, so., Hanford; Annie Shen, so., Hanford; Katie Schroder, sr., Richland; BreAnn Bell, sr., Richland; Mary Workman, so., Richland; Hannah Gardner, jr., Walla Walla; Emma Hagner, fr., Southridge; Lillian Thurber, so., Kamiakin. Diver: Piper Polanik, so., Kamiakin.