At first, Free State High’s fast wasn’t fast enough at the Sunflower League boys swimming finals Saturday afternoon. But those initial disappointments didn’t have much staying power.
In the first three championship events, as Firebirds hightailed through the water and immediately turned to the east wall of the Lawrence Indoor Aquatic Center to see whose hand reached the wall first, FSHS swimmers saw their rivals win by less than a second.
However, both senior Ben Sloan and junior Canaan Campbell bounced back from second-place swims to win individual league titles, and Free State finished third (169 team points) in the standings, behind champion Shawnee Mission East (331) and runner-up Olathe East (282).
Free State’s first discouraging moment of the day came in the 200 medley relay. Connor Munk, Kyle Yoder, Sloan and Nolan Stoppel finished in 1:40.82. But that was 0.76 seconds behind Olathe East and 0.55 behind Shawnee Mission East. Next, Campbell’s push for a 200 free title fell just 0.46 seconds behind champion Ryan Sweat (1:40.27) of Shawnee Mission South. Then Sloan missed out on a 200 IM crown by finishing 0.67 seconds behind Troy DeMoss (1:54.78) of SME.
“It’s what happens in the sport of swimming,” Campbell said. “Sometimes you just get out-touched, and the other person, the other team is a little bit better.”
The initial pain of the setbacks, Sloan added, proved beneficial.
“It’s always tough, but it’s exciting, though,” he said. “Because it’s so close, it gets the whole team pumped up. Whether we win or lose, we’ll rally behind each other.”
Of course, FSHS coach Annette McDonald saw the positives in those near misses. In each of the first three races, the Firebirds improved their times from Friday’s prelims, and Sloan set a program record in the 200 IM with a personal best of 1:55.45.
“You’re thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, we’re second place. But, oh my gosh, we swam well.’ You’ve gotta be happy,” the coach said.
Plus, as Campbell pointed out after going on to win the 500 free (4:45.13) by more than five seconds, those close calls didn’t keep FSHS at a disadvantage.
“It’s kind of a stinging feeling in your heart. You want to get that race back, but you can’t do it again,” Campbell said, “so you take your anger out in the other races.”
Sloan agreed: “There’s always motivation to step up for your team,” he said after winning the 100 fly (51.33) by two seconds.
Plenty of other Firebirds contributed to the team’s third-place finish. Sloan, Munk, Jack Ziegler and Campbell closed the meet with a second-place finish in the 400 free relay. Munk took second in the 100 free and fourth in the 100 back. Ziegler, Stoppel, Nick Becker and Campbell finished third in the 200 free relay. Yoder won the B-final of the 100 breast, placing seventh, and Ziegler took ninth in the 50 free.
Free State even got some help in diving. Though Dan Krieger had to sit out because of an injury, Trevor Hillis advanced out of the morning prelims and semifinals and placed 11th in his first finals appearance in quite some time.
“It kind of makes it more serious,” he said of being the only city diver competing, “because when I have friends or kids from the other schools in it that I know, I kind of mess around. This made me more focused.”
On one of his attempts, Hillis completed a reverse dive tuck for the first time in nearly a year.
“I was really nervous, and when I did it,” he said, “it just felt good and got good scores, so everyone was really happy.”
Hillis hasn’t yet qualified for state, but hopes to do so Thursday at Free State’s Last Chance Meet.
Lions finish 10th
Lawrence High couldn’t match its rival’s success at the league championships. The Lions competed exclusively in B-finals, making it difficult to score points, and finished 10th in the team standings, ahead of just Olathe North and Leavenworth.
“We had some teams we wanted to beat,” coach Kent McDonald said. “Both the teams behind us, but also a few of the ones ahead of us, we wanted to try and go after.”
The best LHS showing of the day came in the opening race, the 200 medley relay. Adam Edmonds, Patrick Bennett, Nathan Evers and Tyler Bradfield finished eighth.
Later, Evers, Darren Rawlings, Bradfield and Edmonds placed ninth in the 200 free relay, and Evers, Caleb Axlund, Tim Schraad and Edmonds were 10th in the 400 free relay.
In the 100 fly, Schraad took 11th, and Evers finished 12th. Axlund placed 12th in the 100 back.
The biggest positives the Lions took away from the weekend, their coach said, was that they earned state-consideration times Friday not only in the 200 medley relay, but also for Schraad and Evers in the 100 fly and Axlund in the 100 back.