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Free State girls swimming team rolling; big dual today

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Free State High's girls swimming team has competed at five meets this spring and only one team — defending Class 6A champion Shawnee Mission East — has found a way to keep the Firebirds out of first place.

FSHS picked up its fourth team title of the season April 9 at home (the Firebirds finished second to SME at the Olathe Invitational on April 5), and coach Annette McDonald said the team's combination of productive veterans and progressing new members have made such success possible: "We have a very talented team in all aspects."

Sophomore Courtney Caldwell, the defending 6A state champion in the 50 free and 100 free, is just one of many who have helped the Firebirds rack up points. Freshmen Cierra Campbell and Sydney Sirimongkhon-Dyck, sophomores Haley Johnson and Kat LaFever, junior Lucy Sirimongkhon-Dyck and senior Annie Soderberg all have won individual events so far this season, too.

Though a lot of the team's talent lies in its underclassmen, senior captain Morgan Miller said the swimmers and divers have bonded well and the team as a whole has talent in each class. Even better, Miller said the team's elders like working with their youngest teammates.

"They're very good about listening to the captains and seniors and really letting us take the lead," Miller said, "but we're completely supportive of having a fast, young team."

Lucy Sirimongkhon-Dyck, who teamed with LaFever, Caldwell and sister Sydney to set a season-best time of 1:54.11 in the 200 medley relay at the Firebirds' last home meet, said Free State doesn't have to rely on just a few swimmers.

"Everybody has their strong points," Lucy said. "It's really made for good meets."

The team's depth shows up most obviously, she added, in relays. At last week's home meet, the Firebirds won the 200 medley, 200 free relay (with Lucy, Alexa Malik, LaFever and Campbell) and the 400 free relay (with Sydney, Campbell, Eliza Anderson and Caldwell). Lucy said opening a meet with a high score in the medley relay helps set the tone.

McDonald knows there is more to the team's consistency than first-place medals and big relay points. Particularly at larger meets, the coach pointed out, a third- or fifth-place finish can be just as valuable. It's that productive depth, Caldwell said, that will serve FSHS well.

"I think we have a really good chance of doing better at state than we did last year," she said of the Firebirds' sixth-place finish in 2012.

In order to contend for a Sunflower League or state title, McDonald said FSHS will need to tweak its lineup somewhat and find the right combination of swimmers to use in certain events. That would allow them to score even more points.

"There are other top teams out there that have the depth and the talent that'll be a challenge for us," the coach said. "It's gonna be a really tough strategy to put together."

But McDonald said the swimmers and divers are motivated to make it happen and keep improving.

"You haven't seen what they're capable of yet," she added.

The Firebirds will play host to some of their primary competition, three-time defending state champion SM East, at a 3:30 p.m. dual today.

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