Oak Harbor seniors Taliah Black, left, Jillian Pape and Olivia Tungate will lead the Wildcats into the swimming postseason this weekend. (Photo by Jim Waller/Whidbey News-Times)

Trio a smart bet for success / Swimming

Intelligence.

It’s not the most common adjective to describe athletic success, but according to Oak Harbor High School senior swimmers Taliah Black, Jillian Pape and Olivia Tungate, it is a primary reason for their achievements.

And achieve they have, setting records and earning multiple trips to the state swim meet.

The trio and their Wildcat teammates are competing in the 3A District 1 meet this weekend at the Snohomish Aquatic Center; the finals are 4 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 4.

The top three finishers in each event and those who meet state qualifying times will advance to the state championships Friday and Saturday, Nov. 10 and 11, at the King County Aquatic Center in Federal Way.

Black, Pape and Tungate, along with freshman Ashleigh Merrill, are guaranteed a spot at state by posting a qualifying time in the 200 medley relay earlier this season.

Back to state

For Black and Pape, it will be their fourth trip in four years to the 3A championships.

Tungate swam year-round for the King Aquatic Club her freshman and sophomore years of high school before joining her longtime friends Black and Pape on the OHHS squad last season.

Tungate chose to leave her club team because the two-and-a-half hour trip to Federal Way five days a week was affecting her studies.

“With almost six hours in a car, I couldn’t handle that with school,” Tungate said. “We are student-athletes, and school should come first.”

All three are honor students, boasting grade-point averages of 3.7 or above.

“We are smart athletes,” Tungate said, “We have learned a lot of time management skills through swimming, learned to balance things.”

Swimming is very detailed oriented and intelligence “helps us focus on technique,” she added.

“They are really bright,” coach Amy Merkley said. “They enjoy a challenge, and they have challenged me to be a better coach. They don’t like it if I give them less to do at practice.”

Winning attributes

Dedication is another key to their success, according to Pape. All three have been friends since beginning their competitive swimming days as members of the North Whidbey Aquatic Club, which they joined in their early elementary school years.

“It’s nice to be able to compete with them in high school,” Pape added.

“We motivate each other,” Black said. “It gives you a reason to come to practice when you aren’t feeling it.”

Commitment is also essential for success, Black said.

“You give up other high school things to be here two-and-half hours a day,” she said.

Another important aspect, she added, is “you learn to be comfortable being uncomfortable.”

Merkley said the three have “great leadership skills” and they complement each other.

Tungate is tough and a fierce competitor; Black is the inspirational leader; and Pape is the quiet one, leading by example.

“They are self-assured, and that has trickled down to the rest of the team,” Merkley said.

More success

The three hope to add to their resume of success in the state meet.

As a freshman, Black swam on two state relay teams and finished 21st in the 100 breaststroke. Pape joined her on a relay squad.

Pape was 13th in the 50 freestyle as a sophomore, Black was 21st again in the breaststroke and the two competed on a pair of relays.

Last year at state, Tungate was fourth in the 100 backstroke (in a school record 57.93) and ninth in the 100 free. Pape placed sixth in the 50 free and 13th in the 100 butterfly.

The trio joined then senior Molly Vagt on two relays, finishing sixth in the 200 medley in a school record 1:51.97 and 14th in the 200 free. The four also set a district record in the medley relay.

The goal this year, Pape said, is to make more finals (the top eight).

“It was fun standing on the podium,” Black added. “We want to do it again this year.”

Black, Pape and Tungate will need help from Merrill to achieve their goals in the relays.

They said the freshman won’t be affected by the pressure of competing at state.

“Ashleigh is very confident,” Black said. “She is a powerhouse.”

Merkley is also confident her athletes will meet the challenge, although she is concerned about Tungate’s health. A back injury slowed her the latter half of the season and she is still recovering.

Regardless, “they will get the job done at district,” Merkley said. “They will size up the competition and have a plan.”

More precisely, an intelligent plan.