Girls state swimming championships serving as farewell for longtime Lawrence swim coaches
photo by: Submitted photo
Saturday’s state swimming championship is the end of the road for longtime Lawrence area swim coaches Annette and Kent McDonald. Over 30 years of coaching experience will be on display when the Free State and Lawrence High swim and dive teams hit the water in Topeka.
Annette, serving as Free State’s girls head swim coach since 2007 and coaching the boys’ program since 2000, announced her retirement earlier this month. Her husband, Kent, retired from 16 years of coaching the boys and girls swim teams at his alma mater, Lawrence High, earlier this spring.
Kent has been close by guiding first-year coach and longtime assistant to Kent, Elle Weber through her first season at the helm of the program. McDonald and Weber led the girls team to a state title in 2019.
“That would’ve been a really good time to end it,” Kent said. “But there are always people on the team I kind of want to keep coaching until they graduate and it’s just really hard to say ‘that’s it.'”
The husband and wife coaching duo first met in New Orleans during the late 1970s. Kent was completing his master’s in geology at the University of New Orleans, while Annette was swimming at LSU. By 1989, the pair had moved to Kent’s hometown of Lawrence to raise their family.
Lawrence was a natural fit for the McDonalds. Kent’s grandfather founded McDonald Beverage in the Lawrence area — one of the first to ship beer back into Kansas after the prohibition. Kent worked for the company after college and also holds a share of a different piece of Lawrence history.
The 1971 LHS alumnus maintains the school track record in the 2-mile (09:08:00) and the 3,000-meter steeplechase record (08:28:54) at the University of Kansas. His passion for track at KU earned him a spot in the 1976 Olympic Trials.
photo by: John Rinkenbaugh
It’s Annette, however, that takes credit for getting Kent into swimming. She motivated her husband to begin training for triathlons during the 1980s. Kent, while completing his teaching certificate, seemingly returned the favor in 2004 when he joined Annette as an assistant coach for the Free State boys team.
That very season saw Free State claim the school’s first state title in any sport. A year later, Kent accepted the boys and girls head swim coaching job at LHS.
“It was this big challenge at the pool by myself,” Annette recalled. “There’s a lot about coaching swimming that’s like coaching running. It’s pretty cool that we were a team at that time and (Kent) was part of it.”
Since that first state title with the boys, Annette led Free State’s girls program to state championships in 2009, 2015 and 2022. Twenty Free State swimmers have gone on to compete at the D-I and D-II levels during Annette’s decades with the boys and girls programs.
Annette will continue teaching math at Free State next year, as five-year Free State assistant Janna Skinner is slated to take over the school’s boys and girls swimming teams next season.
“It was my dream come true,” Annette said. “It was wonderful. I had a very difficult time making the decision to step away. I’m really excited for the team in the future and I think I’m leaving it in good hands.”
Now, the McDonalds are looking ahead to a retirement filled with experiences. Their to-do list includes routine trips to Frenchmen Street just off the Mississippi River in New Orleans, as well visits to their three children in Los Angeles and Philadelphia.
But first, Annette and Kent will guide Lawrence area swimmers through the state championship process one final time.
In Annette’s final season as head coach, Free State carries lofty expectations heading into the state championship. Earlier this month, the Lady Firebirds rolled toward a first-place finish at the Sunflower League championship, snapping multiple meet records in the process.
Those standards aren’t any lower for LHS. The Lady Lions have made tremendous progress behind Weber in year one, a longtime assistant to Kent who’s been working with her outgoing mentor all season long. Ahead of the state finals, LHS notched a 10th-place finish at the league meet in Lenexa.
The gate will open at 8 a.m. at Capital Federal Natatorium in Topeka.