Free State High boys swimming and diving coach Annette McDonald had been looking forward to the team’s season debut, so she could see just how well the Firebirds were capable of performing.
It turns out they exceeded her expectations. Free State won its Wednesday home meet at Lawrence Indoor Aquatic Center, outscoring runner-up Shawnee Mission South by 37 points and rival Lawrence (third place) by 53.
“It’s a big deal,” McDonald said of the first-place finish, “because going into this I had no idea that we’d be able to do that.”
Free State received a great deal of help from junior Connor Munk, who not only won the 500 freestyle and 100 backstroke, but also teamed with Kyle Yoder, Noah Benham and Hunter Robinson to win the 200 medley relay with a state-qualifying time of 1:48.22.
Their coach said posting that time in the first race, on the first day of the season was exciting and unexpected.
“They put everything into this race,” McDonald said.
Munk dropped his time in each of his events, so he couldn’t have been more pleased with the way things turned out. And even though he said the Firebirds sometimes cheer on their LHS counterparts when the teams compete out of town, it was important to open the season ahead of the Lions at home.
“You want to beat Lawrence High, definitely,” Munk said.
FSHS wasn’t too far ahead of the Lions with just two events remaining. Then, a pair of Firebirds sophomores, Robinson and Yoder, took first and second place respectively in the 100 breaststroke, much to the delight of their coach.
“That last 100 breast really put us over the edge and made it so we had a solid finish at the end,” McDonald said.
The coach said she learned a lot about the Firebirds in their debut — namely that they are capable of coming through.
“We’ve got a young team that’s really strong,” she said.
Lions show positive signs
Lawrence coach Kent McDonald wasn’t exactly dismayed about the Lions’ third-place finish at the meet.
“We didn’t place as high as we wanted, but we’re definitely better than we were last year at this time, as a whole team,” he said.
One Lion in particular was better than any LHS swimmer in program history, in fact.
Senior Zach Andregg set program records in both the 200 individual medley (1:59.77) and the 100 freestyle (47.86). The Lions’ coach said both records had stood for more than a decade.
“We’ve had a lot of swimmers come through here,” McDonald said. “To set two in one meet is a good deal.”
The record-setting senior also was part of the winning 400 freestyle relay team with Nathan Evers, Adam Edmonds and Reid Hildenbrand.
Andregg said he would have preferred that Lawrence finish ahead of rival Free State, but he cited the Lions’ ability to cut down their times from last season as a source of excitement.
“I thought we did awesome,” Andregg said.
Kent McDonald noted three LHS swimmers set personal records at the season opener: senior Jacob Pfeifer in the 100 breaststroke (third place), senior Josh Shump in the 100 backstroke (third) and Edmonds, a junior, in the 50 freestyle (second).
The Lions, like the Firebirds, also swam a state-qualifying time in the 200 medley relay. Lawrence finished just 0.33 seconds behind FSHS in the race with Edmonds, Pfeifer, Evers and Andregg.
Said Andregg: “I’m so glad we got that out of the way. We don’t have to worry about that anymore.”
McDonald said he was just hoping the relay team could get a consideration time at the Free State meet. Sealing a state spot in the opener was just one of many highlights for LHS.
“For the first meet,” he said, “they did really well.”