Firebirds eyeing another podium spot at state swimming

Free State High’s girls swimming and diving team has grown accustomed to first-place finishes for the majority of its season, having won six meets convincingly.

The Firebirds aspire to reach the top of the podium one last time this season, when they compete in the Class 6A state championships today and Saturday at Capitol Federal Natatorium in Topeka.

“They believe they can win if they can do everything they need to do. They’re working on technique,” FSHS coach Annette McDonald said. “They’re working on speed. Our divers are working on getting higher points, so everybody is really stepping it and giving it their all.”

FSHS finished as the runner-up at the state meet last year, 109 points behind Shawnee Mission East. The Lancers have won state four consecutive years, but the Firebirds are confident they can end that streak after coming within 12 points of SM East at the Sunflower League Championships, May 9-10.

“I think the team has done so well thus far, and I think that everything just has to go exactly right this weekend, which it totally can,” senior captain Kate McCurdy said. “At league, at one point we were tied with Shawnee Mission East, so we just need to be a little bit further than that.”

Nineteen Firebirds will compete this weekend, many of them with prior experience at the state meet. Sophomore Cierra Campbell will swim in the state meet for the second time and thinks that the leadership from upperclassmen has been the main reason for the team’s success this season.

“We have great team captains with Kate and Lucy (Sirimongkhon-Dyck). They really push us, and they really want us to win,” Campbell said. “Courtney (Caldwell) and Eliza (Anderson) are always pushing us and telling us how we can do better. It’s really motivating.”

Campbell earned league titles in the 200 and 500 freestyle and hopes to follow in the footsteps of her brother Canaan and win an individual state championship. Canaan won the 500 freestyle at the boys state meet in February.

Williams, Reed-Weston to lead Lions

Lawrence High coach Kent McDonald believes his young team has the capability for several strong performances, despite losing many of the top scorers from last year’s state meet.

“We’d like to for sure finish in the top six of the Sunflower League schools. The Sunflower League schools make up the best league in the state,” Kent McDonald said. “Top 10 in the state would be a good goal.”

Two Lions return to the state meet. Junior Nicole Oblon competed in relays last year, and senior diver Allison Williams is a three-time qualifier. Williams finished fourth in diving at the Sunflower League Championship and said she could stand on the podium at state.

“I’ve improved all my scores this year so far, so I’m planning on placing,” Williams said. “I placed at league, so I’m really hoping that I can place in the top eight.”

Williams will be joined on the boards by sophomore diver Ashley Ammann, who placed ninth at league.

Kent McDonald has noticed that Williams and Oblon have taken more of a leadership role as the season has gone on.

“They’re making sure we do what we need to do,” Kent McDonald said. “Allison has helped Ashley, and Nicole has kind of got the other girls under her wing, so to speak. I think they’re both really good at conveying what we’re doing.”

Along with competing in the relays, Oblon will swim in the 100 freestyle. The other two Lions swimming in individual events will be junior Alex Ginsberg and freshman Mary Reed-Weston. Ginsberg will swim in the 100 freestyle, while Reed-Weston earned a qualifying time in the 200 IM. Both Ginsberg and Reed-Weston will compete in the 100 breaststroke.

“I hope to finish top-eight,” Reed-Weston said. “That would be great, especially for my first year. It will just be nice to experience state for the first time.”