Since his freshman year, Will Wertz has worked to push his way to the top of the state swimming podium.
The Hanford standout almost made it there this season, finishing second in the Class 3A 100-yard freestyle and third in the 200 free.
“I went out there and swam the fastest times I ever did in my swimming career,” Wertz said. “I would have liked to win, but I’m happy with how I did.”
He has one more year to get that first-place finish, but he will cap his junior season as the Tri-City Herald All-Area Boys Swimmer of the Year.
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“He came into the season in shape, and he had worked hard through the summer and the fall so that he had his goals set,” said Hanford/Richland coach Kathy Piper, the Herald All-Area Coach of the Year. “He knew what he wanted to do. He stayed pretty focused. It’s tough over the holidays — you’ve got Thanksgiving break and Christmas break — but this year, Will was totally committed throughout the season.”
Wertz headlines a first team full of state standouts.
Prosser’s Will Burgett was the runner-up in the Class 2A 50 free and 100 breaststroke, and Walla Walla’s Patrick Giedeman took second in the Class 4A 500 free and eighth in the 200 free. Richland freshman Luke Jackson (Class 4A 500 free, 100 backstroke) and junior Ashton Pollick (100 back, 200 individual medley) each had two top-eight finishes, and senior teammate Andrew Blanchard was fifth in the 100 butterfly.
Bombers diver Mitch Piper recovered from an elbow injury to make state for the second year in a row.
Wertz showed his versatility throughout the season, making the Mid-Columbia honor roll in seven of eight individual events. He had a fantastic district performance in Kelso, winning the 100 free in a pool-record time of 47.15 seconds and taking the 200 by more than 61⁄2 seconds.
At state in Federal Way, he lowered his times in both events — 46.76 in the 100 free and 1 minute, 42.32 seconds in the 200. He also helped the Falcons earn points in the consolation finals of the 200 medley and 400 free relays.
“Every time you go to state, it just gets that much easier,” Wertz said. “When I was a freshman, I was extremely nervous. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t make it into the championship finals, but last year, I made it to the big-boy finals and got fourth place (in the 200 free) and then this year got even higher.”
Wertz likely will stick with the freestyle double at next season’s state championships.
“That’s probably how it will be, but there’s always swims that come up that you improve in,” he said. “I could switch it up. I probably won’t, though we’ll see.”
Wertz was part of a banner season for the Falcons, who took 16th at state. Their practice partners at Richland again finished in the top 10 — another big accomplishment this season for coaches Piper, Randy Willis and Melissa Stommel.
In November, they guided the Richland girls to second in the Class 4A state standings and Hanford to fourth in Class 3A.
“It’s never boring to hear that we put in a lot of effort to help these kids reach their potential,” said Piper, who was named the Herald girls coach of the year in the fall.
MVP: Will Wertz, Jr., Hanford
Will Burgett, Jr., Prosser
Patrick Giedeman, Jr., Walla Walla
Andrew Blanchard, Sr., Richland
Ashton Pollick, Jr., Richland
Luke Jackson, Fr., Richland
Diver: Mitch Piper, Jr., Richland
Coach of the Year: Kathy Piper, Richland/Hanford
Russell Skorina, So., Walla Walla
Jake Douglas, Sr., Hanford
Jeevan Philip, Sr., Hanford
Jayden Wallace, So., Walla Walla
Taylor Armstrong, Sr., Richland
James Bennett, So., Hanford
Diver: Sam Hart, So., Hanford
w Katie Dorsey: 582-1526; firstname.lastname@example.org