Nothing to regret

By: 
Sonja Karp

Photo courtesy of Teresa Gross

Newcastle’s Lady Dogie swimmers huddle together for a pep talk before one of the races at State.

 

Sonja Karp

NLJ Sports Reporter

 

Three new state records were set, personal bests were improved and state awards were received in Laramie last Friday and Saturday at the 3A State Swim Meet, and while Hannah Gross ended her career just shy of achieving her goals, she and her teammates competed hard and left nothing to regret at the end of the day.

“It was an awesomely fast meet,” exclaimed head coach Doug Scribner. “Buffalo broke the 200 Free Relay record, Lauren Jensen from Green River broke the 50 Free record and Cody broke the record in the 200 Medley Relay. I was really proud of how our girls competed and I know they gave it everything they had.”

Three Lady Dogies qualified for individual events at the culminating contest, however only Gross and Lydia Anderson made the trip to compete. Senior Becca Henkle, who finished third at the conference meet two weeks ago with a score of 305, was unable to dive at the state meet due to quarantine orders by the health department. 

“It was sad that Becca couldn’t go because if she would have performed the way she did at conference, she would have finished fifth,” Scribner sighed. “She learned some difficult dives this year which made her competitive at the state level, and she just worked so hard, so it was a huge bummer.”

The absence of Henkle also meant that Scribner had to rethink who to take to Laramie.

“Coming off of conference, I talked to the team about doing things a little differently, because I had intended to just take the three qualifiers, and then the next fastest person to the meet due to COVID,” he began. “But because Becca couldn’t go, I decided to bring the original lineup of the 400 Free Relay and just enter the team in that one relay.”

His decision to enter his team in just the final relay was due to a couple of factors. First, with the move of Green River from 4A to 3A this year, there were 13 teams competing and since only the top 12 finishers advance to finals, the Lady Dogies were not likely to make the cut given their times in the 200 Free and 200 Medley relays were significantly lower than the other 12 teams.

In addition, Gross’ two individual events each fell after a relay — the 200 Free race is right after the 200 Medley and the 100 Backstroke immediately follows the 200 Free Relay. Scribner wanted to keep Gross as fresh as possible for her individual events given she was going up against two very strong swimmers in each race. 

The preliminaries began at 4 on Friday afternoon, and Gross was first up in the 200 Free, next Lydia Anderson competed in the 100 Free, Gross was back in action with the 100 Backstroke and the team closed out the day with the 400 Free Relay.

“Going in, we knew that Lydia would have to go a minute or faster to finish in the top 12 and advance to the finals,” Scribner explained. “She was excited and ready mentally to do what she needed to do. She was seeded slowest in her heat and she came out and swam strong, cutting two and a half seconds from her personal best time, and she won her heat.”

Anderson competed in the second heat, so she had to wait for the third and final heat to see whether she made the cut. 

“When she finished she looked up at her time and she got this huge smile on her face,” Scribner smiled. “She really knew what she was doing and she went out there and was aggressive in her race. Now she knows what she is capable of doing so that should bode well for next year and it puts her in a really good place.”

Anderson and Scribner had been working on building that mentality since the conference meet, but despite making significant improvement she ended up only about half a second out of the top 12. However, she went into the meet ranked 26th and finished 16th, so to move up 10 spots was quite an accomplishment.

Gross went into the prelims seeded second in both the 200 Free and the 100 Backstroke. As such, she was in the second to last heat in both races. Because of that, there wasn’t a lot of pressure to get placed in finals since she knew she just had to swim on her time to advance.

“Both of her swims were good, especially her 200 Free. What was notable about that race is that one of the things we were working on was her walls and turns, and everything came together in that race,” Scribner stated. “She had really good walls and, after, she said it felt really good and she dropped a little bit of time even though no one was pushing her.”

Her finishes put her right where she needed to be, seeded second for the finals on Saturday. Tara Joyce from Cody was the top seed and she had added about 4 seconds to her conference time of 1:53, however she too had no one to push her in her preliminary race.

In backstroke, Gross was in a very similar situation, going in seeded second behind Lauren Jensen from Green River. At the end of Friday, the seeding was the same for finals with Jensen earning the top spot and Gross coming in at number two.

“Her walls looked good in the 100 Back as well,” Scribner nodded. “Afterward, she said she was a little tired on her finish but thought that she could have taken it out a little bit harder.”

Heading into the 200 Free finals on Saturday, Gross was nervous but ready to take on Joyce for top honors. Scribner noted that she had been pretty nervous after Joyce had posted some really fast times earlier in the season, however after he pointed out to her that she had been swimming splits just as fast, that gave her confidence she would be able to give Joyce a run for her money.

And that she did. From start to finish, the 200 Free was an exciting race with the two going almost stroke-for-stroke.

“Hannah’s walls were better than Tara’s so she would lose a little ground in the water and then make it up on the turn,” Scribner described. “She was only a little behind Tara the whole race, and then made up a lot in the last 75, and if there were five more feet, I think Hannah would have got her. The last 25, Hannah was gaining with every stroke. She just missed it by less than a second and was less than half a body length from her, so it was a really good race.”

Gross had a goal of winning the state championship and getting the school record for the 200 Free, but she ended up a little bit short of that.

In the 100 Backstroke, Scribner admitted that his implementation of taper was probably a little bit off and may have impacted her performance in that race. 

“Hannah was a little tired for the 100 Back,” he admitted. “If I had tapered a little bit earlier and a little bit harder, I think she would have been a little more rested which would have given her a little more in the race.” 

The 400 Free Relay team of Raeleigh Shipp, Anderson, Gross and Rebekah Olson finished 11th in Prelims on Friday but finished 12th in the Finals. The Dogies were ahead of Kemmerer going into the race, but they didn’t have anyone to rearrange where Kemmerer did, so they ended up edging them out to finish ahead of them in the team standings.

Gross was awarded the honor of Co-athlete of the Year which she shared with Tara Joyce for 3A girls swimming. She also earned All-State Honors for finishing second in both of her events. 

“Her athleticism and the impact she has made on 3A swimming gained her recognition from coaches,” Scribner nodded. “She also won All-Conference Honors for her Conference finishes in both events and Becca Henkle earned All-Conference Honorable Mention for finishing third in diving at the Conference meet.”

Scribner reflected on the 2020 season noting that it was a very good one for his team, and though he will be losing Gross and Henkle to graduation, he believes the team will gain a new freshman so he anticipates having a pretty solid core of at least four returning next season.

“The underclassmen really made a lot of improvements, and those who were committed to practice and practicing hard really improved,” he began. “Raeleigh switched strokes midseason from the Breaststroke to the Freestyle and dropped 12 seconds in the 100 Free, and almost qualified. Lydia dropped nine seconds in the 100 Free from where she ended last season and did qualify, and was only .54 of a second away from qualifying in the 50 Free so both should be in pretty good shape to start back up in 2021.”

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