Ben's Babbles: Go big or go home

February 18, 2012

I don't know how or why exactly but at some point during high school, my basketball team became obsessed with the quote "Go big or go home."

It pretty much became the end-all-questions statement for anything we did.

Why on earth did you take that ridiculous three-pointer which just banked in? "Hey, go big or go home."

Why did you just zip a no-look pass straight into the arms of a guy on the other team?"

"Um, go big or go home?"

"McCarty, why did you flop and try to draw a charge on the 5-foot-nothing point guard and get a foul called against you when you could have swatted the ball away without moving?"

"Go big or…never mind coach, I'll just run my laps now."

It got turned into a stupid mantra, but even our teenage foolishness could not erase the truth behind it.

Be willing to give 100 percent at what you are doing, or don't bother.

Or for those of you who, like me, appreciate a good Star Wars quote: "Do or do not, there is no try."

Last Saturday the Hood River Valley swim team's performance in the three relay races at the Columbia River Conference swimming championships fit the phrase to a T.

Relay swimming is not simple; 200 or 400 yards of racing can be decided in a split second at any point in the race. If the first swimmer gets out to a slow start, his or her teammates are going have to get going like crazy to catch up. If any swimmer leaves their blocks too early, the team is disqualified. Thus, it's nice to have a habit on relay teams.

Over the course of a season each team member learns their responsibility, and figures out that perfect split-second where they can fly off the blocks without getting a dreaded DQ.

It's comforting knowing which event and in which spot you are swimming in the relay on a regular basis.

There was not much comfort to be found for the Eagle girls relay swimmers last week.

One week before the championship meet, HRV coach Keith Ebbert broke up the relay teams which the Eagles had gone with the entire season (and for some of them, for the past several seasons). Swimmers were going in different spots, as part of different teams, and swimming different lengths.

"Last weekend he came to us and said we might do different relays," Taylor Tyynismaa said. "It was a big shock. We were worried and nervous. We could have not made it in all three. All of the sudden you are swimming with different people and it challenges you mentally."

Conventional wisdom is you don't break up a relay team, and if you do, it's to put together dream team of four really good individual swimmers, and trust that their talent will overwhelm the rest of the competition and guarantee one relay team goes to state.

"We split the relays up instead of just putting the four fastest girls," Kylie Webb said.

"We didn't put out our dream team," Danielle Miller said.

In the 200 medley relay freshman Caitlyn Fick was moved from the B team to the A team, and Rebekah Galvez was added from the 200 freestyle team with Kylie Webb and Taylor Tyynismaa left in place. In the 200 freestyle, Kayla Schilling was moved over from the medley relay, Fick was left off with Webb replacing her, Danielle Miller was added and Alyssa Walker went from lead-off to anchor leg.

"Keith showed us the times and it worked," Walker said.

In the 400 the Eagles added Tyynismaa to a team of Miller, Schilling and Walker, the closest they came to a "dream team."

Instead of just loading up in one relay, the Eagles spread out the talent in a go-big-or-go-home move.

It paid off perfectly. All three Eagle relays won; albeit with one getting in by the skin of its teeth - or rather Alyssa Walker's fingertips.

Walker chased down Janika Sperl in the final leg of the 200 freestyle, leading the Eagles' risky strategy to completely pay off.

Now instead of having just one relay team at state this weekend, the Eagles have three, and if they can get more than one into the finals it gives them a chance to pick up some serious team points.

Heading into state Friday the Eagles were faced with reshuffling the teams again. Practically everyone on each relay is listed as either a competitor or an alternate for the other relays.

"It gives us a lot of versatility for state," Ebbert said. "Now we can figure out what relays we have the best chance in."

Whether the Eagles put three teams into the finals or one, the decision paid off.

A big group of swimmers will get to experience the state meet, some of them for the first time, and can use the experience to build for the future.

With a group of eight plus several alternates going, "State is going to be really fun," said Webb.

"Not many teams have this much depth and talent," Tyynismaa said. "We've got some amazing girls in the relays."

"Amazing girls" who allowed the Eagles to go big or go home.

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