Gross named Athlete of the Year

Sonja Karp

Photo courtesy of Shawn Smith

Gross is escorted by Breeklee Loebs and Shelby Smith to the blocks for the 100 Backstroke. 

Sonja Karp

NLJ Sports Reporter


Hannah Gross has taken 3A swimming by storm this season, by not only qualifying for the state meet in every swimming event there is, but also putting up the fastest time in four of those and being among the top seed in the rest. 

Last weekend at the 3A State meet in Gillette, Gross nabbed the first state title of her career in the 200 Free, was runner-up in the 100 Backstroke, earned All-State honors in both events, and was also named the 3A State Athlete of the Year.

“Hannah had an amazing weekend, and having her win Athlete of the Year for 3A was exciting from the standpoint that she is not a senior and there was a senior from Lyman who broke the state record in the breaststroke,” head coach Doug Scribner began. “Typically, coaches vote for seniors or for someone who did something impactful at the meet. Breaking a record is definitely that, so everyone was surprised, even Hannah.” 

The coaches vote on these awards, and according to Scribner, they factor in several things for athlete of the year. 

“I think that coaches have noticed the relationships that Hannah has built and the impact she has had on younger swimmers across the state,” he nodded. “She has had a very successful season, and she is not a one-trick pony for sure.”

Gross was seeded first going in to the 200 Free and was still seeded first after prelims by a small margin. According to Scribner, her goal for that race this season has been to go under two minutes and she finished the prelims just off that mark in 2:00.49. Having come so close, the pressure was on for finals on Friday. 

“It was probably the first time this season that Hannah was nervous,” Scribner chuckled. “She told me that right before the 200 Medley relay, and I hadn’t been nervous up until that point, but after she said that I got nervous as well.”

Scribner went on to explain that before the race, he and Gross reviewed the strategy they were going to take. Starting at the beginning of the season, Gross decided to take the races out harder and then finish hard regardless of how tired she was, and Scribner and she zeroed in on focusing more on arms at the beginning and then build on the kick in the back half of the race.

“She took that strategy seriously. In prelims, her first 100 was pretty strong, but when she pushed off to start the second 100, her kick was just fantastic and that allowed her to hold her speed,” Scribner exclaimed. “Her splits were 27, 31, 31 30 so she was able to finish really strong.”

Gross implemented the same strategy for finals when she swam against Olivia Fowler from Lander. Fowler is a three time state champion in the 200 Free, winning it her freshman, sophomore and junior years. Gross didn’t let her opponent’s success undermine her determination, however, and she dropped four and a half seconds off her best time, two seconds in the prelims and another two seconds in finals.

“That was a really fun race to watch because in the first 100 yards, they were pretty close,” Scribner admitted. “But when Hannah pushed off the wall for the second half, and started kicking she just took off and ended up beating Olivia by a little over a body length. She looked up at the clock and saw her time and you could see on her face how surprised and happy she was to see that she had done it in 1:57.79 and achieved her goal.”

The win gave Gross her very first state title, and hers is one of the fastest 200 Free times in the state dating back to 1985. She is now the 11th swimmer in 3A since 1985 to go under 2:00 and is only one of three to go 1:57. In addition, she is only three seconds shy of the state record of 1:54.

Fowler and Gross were at it again in the 100 Backstroke. This time Fowler had the edge as Gross went into finals as the second seed. Three swimmers were really competing for the title - Fowler, Gross and Megan Boysen of Cody, who swam against each other the last three years in this event. 

“It was really cool to watch them race against each other,” Scribner smiled. “The goal for all three was to go under 1:00. Olivia just out-touched them, Hannah was right behind and Megan was right behind Hannah.” 

Only Fowler achieved the goal of finishing under a minute. Gross touched the wall at 1:00.2 which was almost a second faster than she did at Conference so she just missed hitting her goal. 

“She took it out faster than she’s ever done,” Scribner declared. “We’ve spent three years trying to get under 30 in the 50 split in this race, and Hannah reached that goal by swimming a 28.92 in her first 50.”

Becca Henkle was the other Lady Dogie to qualify in an individual event. The junior worked hard all season, and was able to secure a state berth in diving at the Conference meet two weeks ago. Henkle went up against 16 other divers as prelims got underway on Thursday.

“There was a cluster of divers that were close together and it could have gone several different ways,” Scribner began. “Becca ended up failing one of her dives in prelims and that impacted her. She dove very strong on the ones she hit, and if she had not failed that one, she would have made it into the top 12.”

The reverse one and a half was the dive that got the best of Henkle. She finished the day on Thursday in 16th place, but was able to move up to 15th by the end of the meet on Friday. The fact that she was only 10 points out of 12th place gives Scribner’s claim validity that if she had not failed, she would have been among the top 12 finishers.

“She hit the reverse one and a half really well in warmups, but for whatever reason, she was a little short in competitions” Scribner frowned. “I’m glad she got the experience though, and she’s excited about next year and is ready to get to work.”

The rest of the squad was on hand to compete in the three relay races. The 200 Medley relay who finished 11th in both the prelims and finals, was manned by three freshmen and one sophomore - Dakotta Wheeler, Kyah Miller, Brylee Toth and Autumn Mills. 

The 200 Free was made up of Moriahn Kenney, Mills, Lydia Anderson and Henkle. The squad finished 12th both days, but dropped five seconds from prelims to finals.

The 400 Free team of Anderson, Raeleigh Shipp, Kenney and Gross also shaved off five seconds from Thursday to Friday and touched the wall in 11th place both days.

“In our Medley, I entered the younger swimmers to get them some experience, and I rearranged the order in the 200 Free from Thursday to Friday,” Scribner explained. “Each leg of the race has a different mentality so mixing it up really helped us cut time.”

“The big goal of the 400 Free relay was to stay ahead of Rawlins and try to catch Douglas,” he continued. “We almost caught Douglas, and Hannah’s anchor leg split was 53 seconds. That is faster than anyone else from all 12 teams in that relay, it would have won the open 100 and is only one second off the state record in the 100.” 

The Lady Dogies finished the relay and the meet ahead of Rawlins, and will return all nine swimmers to the pool next season. Scribner was very pleased with the gains his young squad made over the course of the year, and is looking forward to building on that in the years to come.

“This has been the easiest and funnest team to coach that I’ve ever had,” Scribner smiled. “Their willingness to work hard and their willingness to understand what it takes to work hard showed itself in the fact that almost every single swimmer put up personal bests week after week. They just get it and I know they will take that attitude into next year which is exciting.”


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