Free State High’s Tyler and Evan Smith have spent most of their lives twisting and turning above gymnastics mats while striving for scores that rarely reached higher than 7.0.
Wednesday evening, at FSHS in the first high school swim meet of the winter season, the brothers found themselves in similar positions but under vastly different circumstances. For starters, the flips and flops they did took place above a spring board and a pool of water. Secondly, the scores were much higher. So high, in fact, that the two finished atop the standings in the one-meter diving competition, with Tyler taking first with 196.15 points and Evan right behind him with 184.9.
“We definitely didn’t think we’d go 1-2,” said Tyler, a senior who became a cult hero this fall with his amazing flip throw-ins for the boys soccer team. “I just wanted to go out and have some fun.”
So did Evan, a freshman who hadn’t even decided to join the team until hearing that his older brother was going for it.
“He pressured me into it,” Evan said. “But it’s really been fun. And competitive. Sometimes he beats me, and sometimes I beat him.”
The FSHS coaches have been impressed by how fast the brothers have picked up their new sport.
“They’re understanding the timing of the board better than most gymnasts I’ve coached in the past,” Free State assistant coach Colleen Boerner said. “They actually look like divers instead of looking like gymnasts.”
While Wednesday’s meet was memorable for the Smith family, it also meant something to the Lawrence High boys, who finished first overall in the final team standings, edging out Shawnee Mission South, 441-408. Free State finished fourth with 358 points, and the Firebirds were led by their divers along with individual victories from juniors Nolan Frank (100 backstroke and 100 free) and Tony Libeer (100 breaststroke).
LHS, which won five of the 12 events, was paced by sophomore Zach Andregg (first in the 200 IM and 500 free), freshman Nathan Evers (first in the 100 fly) and junior Roland Burd (first in the 50 free). That trio also joined forces with Calvin Morgan to win the opening race of the night, the 200-yard medley relay.
“Placing high here is definitely a major boost for us, and it gives us a lot more confidence,” said Andregg, one of the team’s top returners from a season ago.
Burd, who is new to the Lions’ roster after several years of swimming with the Lawrence Aquahawks, is just thrilled to be part of the team.
“It’s an experience I wanted to have,” Burd said. “Swimming for my school is exciting for sure.”
The importance of Wednesday’s meet was not the same as the meets these teams will encounter in February. Swimmers from both sides knew that. But they treated the meet with great importance all the same.
“The first meet of the season’s very important for what you do the rest of the year,” Burd said. “You can just kind of test it out and make adjustments based on this meet.”
Added Free State’s Dalton Munk, who took third in the 500 free and sixth in the 50 free: “I kind of look at this meet as all potential. We have so many new kids who haven’t done this before that it’s kind of fun to see what they can do.”
The Lions and Firebirds will travel Wednesday to the Manhattan Invitational.