The strategy to put James Dye in the 500-yard freestyle at the district meet wasn't exactly a slam dunk decision for Philomath High swimming coach Marissa Eng.
"I thought he should do the 200 free but he was very insistent on the 500 free and he wanted to give it a go," Eng said about the conversation leading up to districts. "He had a hunch he would do well."
Dye easily won the event at the district meet, advanced to state and ended up Saturday with a third-place medal to go along with a fourth-place finish in the 100 butterfly at the Mt. Hood Community College Aquatic Center in Gresham.
Dye, a junior, had broken the 500 freestyle school record Friday during prelims with a time of 5:00.03 and followed up Saturday by lowering it with a 4:56.80.
"The great thing about the coach's relationships we have, we can talk openly about these things," Eng said about the decision on his entries. "If a kid really wants to do it and it's what's best for the team, then yeah, we're going to do it. You gamble every time you put in an entry because you have no control over what other people are doing and this year it worked out."
The top two finishers in the 500 free had a pretty good distance on the rest of the field but Dye was in a real dogfight for third with Newport sophomore Luke Bachart. The two athletes had been very close to each other throughout the race and Dye touched the wall first, just seven-hundredths of a second ahead of Bachart.
"It's what we call a Warriors finish," Eng said. "A Warriors finish is where you don't breathe from the flags in and you just put your head down and you do your best to put the hand on the wall. And that's what he did."
The flags Eng referred to are 5 yards out from the wall.
"We do our very best on how physiologically your body is reacting with certain energy expenditures so basically, there's no point taking a breath," Eng added. "It's not going to give you any help. It's just a way to be gutsy and want it more."
Dye became the first-ever Warriors swimmer to break the 5-minute barrier in the event. He nearly got it done during the preliminary round, but had a few issues.
"He kinda botched a couple of the turns and did some funky breathing, but today he had a well put together and wonderfully executed race and you could tell he wanted it more," Eng said. "He engaged his legs and kicked hard and put his head down."
Dye earned a medal in the 100 butterfly for the second straight year, finishing fourth with a time of 55.94, which remarkably was within one-hundredth of a second of his time the previous day in prelims.
"It's very exciting to be at the state meet and I had to put in lots of hard work to get here," Dye said. "It's definitely a great feeling to be here and it's well worth all the work that it takes to get here."
Dye's performances at state were significant with the exceptional field that took to the Mt. Hood pool over the weekend.
"The competition was tough ... it was very impressive," Eng said. "Multiple OSAA records just fell and I'm not talking by .01 or anything, but by a second, two seconds, even up to three seconds. James is swimming right alongside them and bringing a great reputation of what Philomath is about on the state level."
Philomath's boys qualified two relays for state. The 200-yard medley relay missed reaching finals by one spot with seventh in 1:52.04. Senior Jensen Davis, junior Tristan Pindell, Dye and junior Brandon Enghauser swam legs on the relay.
The 200-yard freestyle relay with junior Jeremy Schaffer, Davis, Pindell and Dye finished ninth in 1:38.18.
The Philomath girls had a single individual qualify in junior Amity Coon. Competing in the 100-yard breaststroke, Coon came in 10th with a time of 1:14.22, which shaved seven-tenths of a second off her time at districts. It was her first solo race at state.
The girls' 200-medley relay also reached state and had its fastest time of the season by 4 seconds with a 2:08.12, but the team was disqualified. Freshman Melia Morton, Coon, sophomore Maggie Ross and senior Miriam Coskey swam legs on the relay.
Dye's medals gave Philomath a 10th-place finish in the team standings. Newport won the boys' meet by a good margin over runner-up North Bend. For the girls, North Bend took the title by nine points over runner-up Sweet Home.
Eng said all six races that Philomath competed in Friday were season-bests.
"One, I am a very lucky coach and have the privilege of having some hard-working student-athletes," Eng said. "Two, they're just tough as nails. The best part about it is my kids are kind, compassionate and have the most genuine love for the team."
The athletes routinely go the extra step to cheer on teammates, which Eng believes is a key ingredient in the recipe for success.
When asked about her favorite moment at state as a coach, Eng talked about that type of camaraderie.
"Most times, when you're on the coaching bridge, I look out and we have one swimmer behind the blocks," she said. "I can see their teammates, every single kid I have standing behind their teammate and they are just as excited."
Although some may see swimming as an individual competition, Eng said it's definitely a team sport.
"James would not have been as successful if he didn't have the power of the team behind him," she said. "You compare it to the other teams. No other team has the rest of them stand behind their block and cheer them on."
4A/3A/2A/1A State Meet
Friday-Saturday at Gresham
Team scoring: Newport 74, North Bend 48, Salem Academy 39, Sweet Home 37, La Grande 32, Nyssa 14, Marshfield 12, Henley 12, Scappoose 8, Philomath 7, St. Mary's 6, Seaside 5, Catlin Gabel 4, Stayton 4, Cottage Grove 2, Baker 2, Phoenix 2.
200 medley relay: Prelims—7, Philomath (Jensen Davis, Tristan Pindell, James Dye, Brandon Enghauser), 1:52.04.
100 butterfly: Finals—4, James Dye, 55.94. Prelims—4, James Dye, 55.93.
500 freestyle: Finals—3, James Dye, 4:56.80. Prelims—3, James Dye, 5:00.03.
200 freestyle relay: Prelims—9, Philomath (Jeremy Schaffer, Jensen Davis, Tristan Pindell, James Dye), 1:38.18.
Team scoring: North Bend 66, Sweet Home 57, Catlin Gabel 52, Sisters 34, Tillamook 33, La Grande 24, Newport 17, Marshfield 8, Corbett 5, St. Mary's 3, Valley Catholic 2, Salem Academy 2, Cascade 2, Baker 1.
200 medley relay: Prelims—DQ, Philomath (Melia Morton, Amity Coon, Maggie Ross, Miriam Coskey), 2:08.12.
100 breaststroke: Prelims—10, Amity Coon, 1:14.22.