One year after its impressive debut season, Nelson is looking to shift the balance of power in 6A boys swimming.
The Hawks, who finished fifth at state last year, believe they have the pieces to make a run at a state championship. In a sport dominated by teams from the west side of the Portland area, Nelson could become the first east-side champion since Grant in 2010.
“We're hungry for the whole thing this year,” said coach Sam Nelson, who swam for David Douglas' 6A title team in 2008. “We definitely think that we are capable. We have a special group this year.”
The team not only has two returning state champions in Arizona State-bound senior Quinlan Gould (100-yard backstroke) and junior Mason Hopper (100 butterfly), but has added a dynamic talent in freshman Drew Eubanks, who is ranked second in the nation in the 100 breaststroke for the 13-14 age group.
“I have three swimmers that are oftentimes once-in-a-decade type swimmers, all at the same high school at the same time, which is pretty incredible,” Nelson said.
The team's loaded roster features swimmers from The Dolphins Swim Team, Mt. Hood Aquatics and Lake Oswego Swim Club. When the Happy Valley school opened in 2021-22, splitting the enrollment from Clackamas, much of the swimming talent landed at Nelson.
“We definitely got our fair share of really strong underclassmen,” Nelson said. “They all know each other because their clubs compete against each other. It was just about getting these guys to click together. A lot of relationship building was the key last year.”
The Hawks won all of their Mt. Hood Conference dual meets last season but settled for second place behind David Douglas at the district meet, largely due to the disqualification of the 200 medley relay, which was good enough to contend for a state title. Without that relay, the Hawks missed out on winning their first trophy in the 6A meet, finishing six points behind fourth-place Sunset.
With improved chemistry this season, the team is swimming with a purpose.
“After a full year under our belt, they're all familiar with each other,” Nelson said. “They know what they're capable of this year. The kids know how special the team could be. Club meets a lot of times are more important, but actually I'm shocked about the school pride. They're all repping their Nelson gear and they're all really excited.”
The Hawks return all of their individual state-placers from last season in Gould (first-100 backstroke, seventh-50 freestyle), Hopper (first-100 butterfly, fourth-100 freestyle) and juniors Tyson Elliott (eighth-100 breaststroke, 10th-200 individual medley) and Evan Escobar (13th-100 butterfly).
They also bring back all the members of the 200 freestyle relay and 400 freestyle relay, which finished third and sixth, respectively.
The 6-foot-4 Gould, who swims for Lake Oswego Swim Club, is going for a repeat in the 100 backstroke. He set a personal best of 48.56 in November, an improvement from last year's state time of 48.93 and within range of the 6A meet record of 48.53 (Patrick Mulcare, Southridge, 2014).
Hopper won the 100 butterfly at state last year in 50.26, but has since clocked 49.17. He also has swam the 100 freestyle in 45.32, which would have been good enough to win the event at state last year.
“He's already improved to much from the summer,” Nelson said of Hopper, who swims for the Dolphins. “He might have the best work ethic of any kid I've ever coached or been around. He's the kind of kid that stays an hour late after practice to talk with coaches, get an extra lift in. He's one of the most competitive kids I've ever met.”
Outside of defending their titles, Gould and Hopper could end up in the 50, 100 or 200 freestyle, depending on other factors. Nelson said that Gould and Hopper are “neck and neck” in the freestyle sprints.
“I don't think they're really good friends because they're used to competing against each other, but it's really fun having them on the same relay, because they're so fast,” Nelson said.
“In all the dual meets, because there's not a lot of competition in the Mt. Hood Conference, I put them racing each other. … Both of these guys, their times in the 200 freestyle would win gold.”
Expectations are high for Eubanks, who set state records for the 100 and 200 breaststroke in the 13-14 age group. His best in the 100 breaststroke of 56.94, clocked in a club meet Jan. 8, shows that he is tracking toward the all-time OSAA record of 55.40 (Brian Frazier, Oregon City, 2016).
At state, Eubanks could end up squaring off with Jesuit senior Diego Nosack in the breaststroke or the 200 IM, where Nosack is the reigning champion.
“I'm excited to see what Diego swims because I want to see some of my guys go head-to-head against him,” Nelson said.
The Hawks won't be holding anything back for the state meet, according to Nelson, who has talked with his swimmers' club coaches about the preparation.
“I said how special this year could be for high school, and they agreed to taper these guys a little bit for the upcoming state meet, so they'll be well-rested,” Nelson said.