Firebirds, Lions set for state swimming

When Free State High senior swimmer Jack Ziegler sets his mind on something, he usually finds a way to achieve it.

Ziegler spent the offseason working solely on speed, trying to get faster. In the first meet of the season, he achieved one of his goals by breaking the school record in the 50-yard freestyle.

Since then, he’s shattered that record and he also set a new Sunflower League meet record two weeks ago. Now he’s focused on winning a couple of state titles at the Class 6A swimming and diving championships, which begin at 10 a.m. today at the Capitol Federal Natatorium in Topeka.

“We want to win state in both of our relays,” Ziegler said. “I’m in the 200 medley and 400 free relay. I want to win state in the 50 (freestyle). … But I’ve got pretty tough competition in the 100 (freestyle).”

Ziegler, who scored a perfect 36 on his ACT, is the top-seeded swimmer in the 50 freestyle and is No. 2 in the 100 freestyle, though he trails the top swimmer by more than 1.3 seconds. The Firebirds have the fastest seed time in the 400 freestyle relay and are narrowly the second seed in the 200 medley relay.

One of the big keys for Ziegler, and other Free State swimmers, will be the use of a warm-up and cool-down pool. It’s what they’re accustomed to during the club swimming seasons, and the extra pool has plenty of advantages.

“Warming up is a huge part of the race,” Ziegler said, “especially for sprinters because in longer races you can kind of use parts of the race as a warm-up. But as sprinter, you’ve got to be ready to go, 100 percent, the entire time. Having the warm-up pool will definitely help.”

The Firebirds are aiming to improve from their fifth-place finish at state last year. They have at least one swimmer in each event and have four divers. One of the newcomers to the state meet is junior Brett Carey, who is the lone Firebird in the 500 freestyle.

“Super excited,” said Carey, who has shaved more than 20 seconds on his time in the 500 freestyle this season. “I’ve heard stories and stuff like that. I don’t think there’s going to be anything that compares to what I’m going to be able to experience. It’s the fastest meet of the season and it’s also the biggest meet.”

Sophomore Jordan Portela, the defending champion in the 200 freestyle and 100 butterfly, is the top seed in both events this year. Senior Josh Terrell owns the second-fastest seed time in the 100 breaststroke and third-fastest in the 200 individual medley. Freshman Evan Eskilson is also the third seed in the 100 backstroke.

“We’re really excited,” FSHS coach Annette McDonald said. “They’ve looked at times. They’ve looked at who’s seeded in front of them, if there is anybody, and set some goals and thought about what they could do. It looks real promising. They’re really motivated. They’ve worked well all week.”

Lawrence High will send four swimmers to the state meet — Stephen Johnson (200 freestyle and 500 freestyle), Chase Odgers (100 butterfly), Isaac Springe (500 freestyle) and Alex Heckman (100 backstroke) — along with junior diver Izaiah Bowie and all three relays.

“We’re real excited,” LHS coach Kent McDonald said. “This is what we’ve really been going for the whole year. We’ve got some people in it and we look pretty good for doing better than last year.”

Odgers, a junior, swam in a few relays at state last year, but he’s thrilled that he qualified for his first individual race at state.

“I barely got in with a consideration time, but I’m still happy about it,” said Odgers, who is seeded 23rd of 24 competitors. “I’m just happy I got in the 100 fly. I don’t expect to go to finals, but that’d be nice if I did. I expect all three relays to get to finals the next day.”