Free State swimmers take aim at state champs

? Today is the day Free State High’s girls swimmers have waited for all season long — one they’ve talked about, thought about and swam for.

Sure, every high school swimmer circles the date of the state championships on her calendar. But today means so much to the Firebirds because they aim to dethrone four-time defending Class 6A champion Shawnee Mission East at Capital Federal Natatorium.

After Friday’s prelims, they know it won’t be easy.

The Lancers became a dynasty with their depth, and it showed again on day one of the state meet. SME only won a single race, compared to Free State’s four prelim victories, but they sent more overall swimmers to day two’s finals, which begin at 3:30 p.m. today.

Not long after SM East opened the meet with the fastest qualifying swim in the 200 medley relay, FSHS junior Courtney Caldwell won the 50 free and 100 free races. Later, the Firebirds won the 200 free relay (Sydney Sirimongkhon-Dyck, Simone Herlihy, Eliza Anderson and Cierra Campbell) and the final event, the 400 free relay (Anderson, Lucy Sirimongkhon-Dyck, Alexa Malik and Caldwell).

But when finals berths from all the swimming events were counted up, SME had 12 individuals in championship heats and 12 more in consolation heats. Free State finished with 10 championship competitors and nine consolation swimmers. Both programs sent all three of their relay teams to the championship races.

“Most of us swam really, really well,” Caldwell said, “and I’m proud of everyone. But we have work to do.”

The plan, of course, was to get as many FSHS girls as possible into the finals.

Said coach Annette McDonald: “There were a couple spots we lost, and that was just definitely disheartening.”

Free State senior Lucy Sirimongkhon-Dyck (17th) missed the 200 IM consolation final by one spot. Freshman Kara Krannawitter (ninth) missed the 100 breast championship final by one place. And freshman Carter Stacey ended less than a second out of the final consolation berth in both the 200 free and 100 back (19th in both).

“Sometimes they don’t realize how fast everybody’s gonna be swimming,” McDonald said. “They think, in their head, that it’s gonna be like they’ve been doing.”

Anderson, a junior who qualified third in the 100 back and fifth in the 200 free, said the Firebirds know how difficult it will be to keep up with SME in the team points hunt.

“We had a few setbacks, but we’re gonna recover,” Anderson said. “People will learn from their mistakes.”

Free State only finished 12 points behind the Lancers at the Sunflower League championships two weeks ago, so Anderson expects that will only help their motivation. As will today’s stage.

“State is such a phenomenal place to swim,” she said. “It’s so loud, and everybody’s cheering.”

Now all they have to do is harness their adrenaline and find a way to achieve their season-long goal.

Said Caldwell: “I think we still have a chance. We just need to swim fast.”

Freshman leads Lions

Lawrence High will only have one swimmer competing in the championship heats today. Freshman Mary Reed-Weston qualified fifth in her two individual events: the 200 IM and 100 breast.

Lions coach Kent McDonald said she has handled her first trip to state with ease.

“She’s pretty calm. I don’t think it really gets to her too much,” the LHS coach said. “She has raced enough to be able to handle it.”

The Lions reached the consolation finals in all three relay events.

Seabury reaches finals

Bishop Seabury, which finished fourth in team points at the 5-1A state meet in 2013, advanced to five finals Friday.

Senior Phoebe Edwards will compete today in the championship heats of two events after qualifying third in the 100 fly (1:00.25) and second in the 500 free (5:11.88).

She teamed with seniors Emma Stilgenbauer and Elizabeth Padgett, as well as junior Ryal Mitchell, to reach the consolation finals in the 200 medley relay (14th) and 200 free relay (10th).

Padgett (14th) qualified for the 50 free consolation final.