Gabrielle Dang may be a three-time state freestyle champion, but she still gets the “nervous tummies” before races, she laughs.
The North Creek High senior is ultra serious about her performance in the pool, but she also thrives on being a stellar captain — getting teammates hyped up by leading cheers and making sure everyone’s supporting each other — so she’s got her hands full at meets. Dang wouldn’t have it any other way.
Dang, who shares captain duties with senior Alyssa Howard, said the keys to personal and team success is, “I think loving the sport, just being able to really be engaged in not only yourself but just the sport and the people. I definitely feel like if I wasn’t 100 percent in swimming, I wouldn’t energize that to everyone else.”
Once Dang hits the pool in the 50- and 100-yard frees — the races where she owns 4A state crowns — she’s zoned in on competing, and nothing else. She may be nervous beforehand, but her confidence and powerful strokes shine through when it’s go time.
North Creek began its 4A KingCo season with a 96-90 victory over Inglemoor on Sept. 6 at Juanita High. Some of the North Creek swimmers used to attend Inglemoor, so it was a reunion of friends that had girls chatting away, smiling and rooting for each other.
At North Creek’s inaugural state meet last year, Dang won the 100 free (49.98 seconds) and placed second in the 50 free (22.95), posting automatic All-American times in both events. Jazlynn Pak, now a junior, took second in the 100-yard butterfly (54.92) and third in the 50 free (23.59) with All-American consideration times in both.
Dang and Pak also led the Jaguars to a fourth-place medal in the 200-yard freestyle relay (1:39.49) and a fifth-place finish in the 200-yard medley relay (1:50.13). Also swimming in the relays were freshmen Alyssa Heusted and Baohan Tran. North Creek placed sixth in the team standings with 128 points.
Dang, who won the 50 and 100 frees at state for Inglemoor as a sophomore, said she’s still fully on board with the frees this season, but “I’m definitely wanting to try something different. It’s my senior year, why not? I kind of wanna do the 100 fly this year, I wanna branch out.”
First-year coach Nancy Nygren is thrilled to have a solid group of girls on the squad this season, including returners Pak, Tran and Heusted.
Pak enjoyed representing North Creek in its first year at state and can’t wait to see what this season brings.
“People say that swimming is an individual sport, but when you’re on the high school swim and dive team, you’re swimming for more than yourself,” she said of her North Creek teammates. “I got the girls on my back, so when I’m at state, I’m swimming for them. Behind the block I’m ready to go, I’m ready to swim fast, I’m ready to swim my heart out and leave no regrets. I wanna go out there and swim as hard as I can.”
At state last year, Tran was a bit overwhelmed while swimming against seniors who were about to turn the corner into college. She had an amazing experience, she said, and can feel the excitement building to compete this season and maybe surpass last year’s performance.
“I’ll continue to work hard and push myself and set reasonable goals I can accomplish and do better than I did last year,” said Tran, noting that the relays formed tight bonds throughout the season.
The relays are her thing again this year and Tran smiles and jokes about securing her place on the teams: “Hopefully no one takes my spot!”
As for Heusted, she swims club like the others and is geared up to put her intense training into action this season. She’s got her mind set on working hard the whole way. What starts at club funnels into her North Creek world.
On the North Creek relays, she added: “It was fun to have a team together that is all from different (club) teams and different people. To come back, and be back with all these girls is a lot of fun and I’m hoping to make it again to state.”