Through the years, it’s become common for sports teams to use the phrase “family” to describe the often close-knit nature of their team.

This winter, though, the La Grande Tigers swim team has taken that term quite literally.

La Grande has four sets of siblings on the team this season — the Rickers, Jensens, Kruses and Remilys. It’s not the first time LHS Head Coach Darren Dutto has had multiple sibling groups on one of his teams during the past 14 years, but it’s the most at one time that he can recall.

He’s known each of the families for years, however, so the unique blend didn’t even cross his mind until it was mentioned to him.

“It’s not something I really thought about, because I’ve known all the kids on the team, siblings included, for a long time,” Dutto said. “I’ve known their families.”

As one would expect, each family brings its own dynamic to the team — some have a no-nonsense mentality in the pool, and some are jokers. Some have been in the sport for better than half their lives, and some are in just their first or second year swimming competitively. Some have joined from other sports. Some know only swimming.

The Ricker family is, perhaps, the group that has the deepest involvement in the sport. Currently there are three siblings on the team: senior Caden, junior Romayne and sophomore Laramie. All six children in the family either already have gone through or will at some point go through the program.

“Our parents wanted us to be able to swim,” said Romayne, who along with Caden has been swimming for nine years between the LHS program and the La Grande Swim Club. “We did soccer for a while, (but) it got to be too much for my mom. It was easier if we were all (on the same schedule).”

The Jensens have an interesting mix of experience in that Kristal, a junior, has been swimming for “six or seven years” and has swam in John Day, Baker and La Grande. But Grayson, a senior, is in only his second season on the team, joining as a junior after dealing with several injuries in wrestling.

“It was a lot easier on my knee. It wasn’t tearing it up like it was in wrestling (but) still pushing me physically,” Grayson said.

The Kruses — junior Kennedy and freshman Reagan — were invited to the sport by the Ricker family.

“We were doing soccer with them, and then they got into the swim club and said, ‘You should do this,’”
Kennedy said.

Kennedy has been swimming ever since, while
Reagan took some time off before rejoining this winter.

The Remilys bring maybe the most interesting dynamic to the pool. The two middle brothers in the family — senior Scott and sophomore Adam — have a combined three years of experience on the team, and it’s the younger who has more. Adam joined the team as a freshman and is in his second year, while Scott jumped on board for his senior year.

“I just had a lot of people on the team saying I should try it out for my last year,” Scott said. “It’s something to do over the winter.”

The duo has added a different energy — some teammates might call it craziness — to the pool this season.

“They bring that happy-go-lucky, anything-goes attitude to the pool, which is kind of fun,” Dutto said. “It’s different.”

And with these two, anything does go. The brothers said they are often yelling back and forth across the pool during practice each morning, while also bringing some antics into the water to “break up the long sets,” as Scott put it.

“We just have little things we do when we’re swimming that make it easier,” Scott said. “We grab hands and pull each other farther down the lane, or we make jokes across the lanes.”

The humorous side isn’t lost on their teammates, either.

“They bring the fun,” Caden said.

One might think that, even though he’s in his first year, Scott would be doing what he could to top his younger brother. While there is that competitive side, he said Adam has helped him a lot in learning the sport this season. In fact, his best time came in a race where the two swam next to each other.

That they swam in the same race was rare in itself. Pitting siblings against each other in a race is something Dutto has tried to avoid over the years, but he has made an exception this year as he tried to figure out what was the best fit for the Remily brothers.

“I’ve had them swim the same event a couple times because (at the beginning of the season) it looked like their strengths may be similar,” he said. “The nice thing about them is there doesn’t appear to be any conflict.”

Indeed, there is a good-hearted nature to the sibling rivalry.

“There’s competitiveness, but there’s also that love/hate relationship,” Adam said. “You want to beat him, but at the same time you’re super supportive of each other, and it’s someone you can always count on.”

There isn’t even much — if any — trash talk.

“After the race it’s not like, ‘Aw, man, you got wrecked! I destroyed you!’ It’s, ‘Hey, good job, man,’” Adam said, fist-bumping Scott as he says the words.

The competitive instinct runs deeper in the Jensen family, though there is a fun nature to it.

While still very supportive of each other, Kristal and Grayson often keep track of how the other does in the one event they share — the 50-yard freestyle.

“Last year when (Grayson) was first starting, he would say, ‘I’m going to swim that fast! Can’t let my little sister beat me!’ And now we’re closer to the same speed,” Kristal said. “Every meet, if I have a bad turn on my 50 he goes faster than me. (If) he slipped off the block, I go faster than him.”

She makes sure to slip in one fact, though: “My fastest time is still faster than his fastest time.”

For Grayson, the back-and-forth in the 50 between them has become one of the best parts of the sport. He added, though, “My best memories of the first meets were swimming and approaching the other side of the wall, and hearing her voice above everybody else screaming to go faster.”

Kristal, laughing, jumps in to explain those first races: “He was just chilling! Like, ‘It’s no big deal, it’s all good.’ You know you’re supposed to go fast, right?”

Kristal said the two have always been close and, because of the nearness of their ages, have shared many experiences. After competing in different sports in high school, though, swimming together has allowed them — and their parents — to watch the other compete more often.

“We’re both going to the same place, so both of our parents can come watch,” she said. “Before, we were doing different sports: wrestling bus goes east, we go west, two different towns five hours apart. Dad goes here, Mom goes there. The next time Mom goes here, Dad goes there.”

“Now both (are) at the same place cheering us on at the same (time),” Grayson adds.

Kristal continues: “I don’t think I ever watched Grayson wrestle in high school because of swim meets.”

The siblings, who said they’ve been nicknamed the Wonder Twins, have just two meets remaining together — districts this weekend and, assuming both make it, state in Beaverton next weekend. And while both will be contending for state berths and placings, Grayson said a highlight is going to be watching his sister perform, maybe for the final time depending on what lies ahead for him after graduation.

“She’s just a phenomenal swimmer,” he said of Kristal. “Watching her and getting to experience swimming at that level, knowing she’s my sister, is impressive. Getting to see her finish out this year as well as being part of the team will be exciting.”

The only sibling pair that won’t be split after this season is the Kruses, with Kennedy and Reagan
getting another year
together in 2019-2020.

What competitiveness does exist between the sisters is tempered by the fact that they swim in vastly different events.

“She’s long distance (swimming the 500),” Reagan said. “I’m short distance (swimming the 50).”

Even when the two swim in relay races together, Reagan doesn’t worry about the time she may post in comparison to her older sister.

“I don’t really care,”
Reagan said.

What little competition there is, Kennedy said, is “fun competition. It’s really fun (swimming together). Reagan’s (set several personal records) this year. It’s been great.”

“I think it’s really fun,” Reagan agreed, saying that being on the team with her older sister is “just like swimming with another teammate.”

The older of the two added she believes swimming has brought them closer together “because of the (early) mornings, and we do hang out with the same group of friends. (We’re) laughing together. We both joke about things a lot more.”

Early mornings, in fact, are a reality for the swim team. Practices are at 5:30 a.m. each morning, and of the sibling groups, the Kruses are among the earlier risers, getting up around 4:30 (the Remilys, by comparison, push it until the final moments, getting up around 5:15. Both the Rickers and Jensens have a mix of early and late risers).

“We like to eat and stretch — and then get there early,” Kennedy said of their preferred unrushed morning routine.

In the pool, though, noted Reagan, her older sister is anything but slow.

“Kennedy moves really fast when she swims,” she said. “Me, I don’t move fast.”

The younger sister added that because of their swimming styles, they should be in the opposite races — Kennedy in the shorter races and Reagan in the longer.

“It actually should be the other way around,” Reagan said.

Kennedy pointed out, however, that the mental aspect of a longer endurance race fits her better.

“During sprint sets, it’s hard for me to go all out and put my whole brain into it. I’m better at enduring through (a longer race),” Kennedy said.

The mentality going into a race is also vastly different in the Ricker family, especially between sisters Romayne and Laramie.

“I try to run through the races in my head, what I’m going to do,” Romayne said. “If I panic, I run to my siblings or my teammates, and I’ll cheer them on and start getting more positive vibes.”

Laramie is the polar opposite, which translates well into her races as a sprinter since she does the 100 and 200 freestyle (she’s also done the 50 in the past).

“As a sprinter you have to not be afraid of just going. Just get up on the block and go,” she said.

Caden has also become a sprinter, moving away from the 100 breaststroke as one of his events two years ago.

“I was basically following in the footsteps of (older brother) Dean to a certain degree in the 100 breast,” he said. “My whole family is pretty decent at breaststroke, but after my sophomore year I couldn’t swim breaststroke as fast so I went to 50 (freestyle) and became a sprinter. Now I’m more of a 100 free and 200 free (swimmer), and that’s what I’m good at.”

Several of the other sibling sets pointed to the Rickers as the hardest workers on the team. Caden said it comes down to the family’s work ethic.

“If I’m going to be there, I have to go the whole time, otherwise it’s not worth it,” he said.

Romayne noted that, during practice, she and her siblings stay focused for the most part.

“We don’t really talk a lot (during practice),” she said. “Sometimes I’ll give them a high five and (encourage) them to go faster. Personally, what gets me going is cheering other people on.”

But they’re by no mean fun mongers.

“There was one time we were (practicing starts), I had to come up because I was choking I was laughing so hard,” Laramie, the comedian of the group, said. “I just remember Caden started laughing too (and I was) laughing my head off.”

The Ricker sisters also team up on relays.

“I really enjoy having Laramie on my relay,” Romayne said. “It’s something special we can share looking back in a couple years, how we won districts — hopefully.”

But with so many families on one team, how does it impact the entire team dynamic?

“I think it’s great because it brings some stability to the team,” Coach Dutto said. “You have a bunch of kids who know each other between the sibling sets, and then kids who have known each other for a long time. It’s nice as a coach because (the team is) already a fairly cohesive unit.”

In fact, Dutto called this group one of the most close-knit in his 14 years coaching at LHS, ranking it with the 2008-09 team, which he called “probably the closest team I’ve had.”

“They tend to support each other really well,” he said. “The great thing is a lot of them are experienced. They take the new kids under their wing and help them out. It’s a good experience all around.”

Or, as Grayson put it, “All the families being on the team make it more (of a) family.”