The last time Free State High seniors Heather Clark and Morgan Flannigan were standing so close together with so many camera bulbs flashing, they were accepting their state championship swimming trophy last spring in Topeka.
Friday, in the FSHS library, the two participated in a similarly huge journey together when they signed their national letters of intent, Clark to attend Kansas University and Flannigan inking with Nebraska.
Although neither would say just where the day ranked in comparison to winning the state title last May, the general opinion was that Friday’s signing ceremony was equally awesome.
“They’re close,” said Clark, asked which ranked higher. “They’re pretty close.”
So, too, are Clark and Flannigan, which is why they chose to sign together in front of dozens of friends and family members. Both have achieved All-American times during their high school careers, both have spent years swimming for the Lawrence Aquahawks, and both have their names on the Free State High record board. What’s more, they teamed together last May to set a state record in the 400 freestyle relay, one of two state records which the FSHS program owns.
“I know they’ll do great in college. They’ve done great here and both universities are very lucky to have them,” said Aquahawks head age group coach, Patrick Norman, who first met the two Firebirds more than seven years ago.
Clark’s decision to stay in Lawrence and sign with KU took about the same length of time it takes her to execute a flip turn off of the wall during one of her races: next to none.
“I’ve always been a Jayhawk, hardcore,” Clark said. “My family always has been, too. And I’m really excited to get to a new level, to face new challenges and to work with new people.”
For Flannigan, the decision was not quite so easy. Her final decision came down to KU and Nebraska, and Flannigan said she chose the Huskers because of her familiarity with Lincoln, Neb., and the fact that signing with NU gave her a chance to get away without going too far.
“It was kind of a hard decision,” she said. “But ultimately I chose Nebraska because it was close to home but still allowed me to go away for school.”
Flannigan has family near the university and therefore has been attending Big Red games for most of her childhood. She said the chance to become a part of one of the most accomplished athletic departments in the nation was too good to pass up.
While Friday’s signing ceremony represented the beginning of the next chapter in their lives, both pointed out that they’re very much looking forward to defending their Class 6A state title this spring.
That was music to Free State coach Annette McDonald’s ears.
“This is a great day for these girls, and they’re both so deserving,” McDonald said. “But we’re excited that we get one more year with them before they go.”