By BRETT MARSHALL
Garden City High School's girls swimming team and its coach, Casey Wise, knows what it's like to be in a hard-fought, closely-scored meet with Great Bend.
It was just last year that the Lady Buffs came up one point shy of knocking off the perennial top team in the Western Athletic Conference at the league meet.
Thursday, however, it was the Lady Buffs' turn to prevail, winning the final event of the day — the 400-yard freestyle relay — to bring home the Hutchinson Invitational team title with 362 points to Great Bend's 352.
The teams entered the final event knotted at 308 points, and with the Buffs' first-place team and then a fourth-place finish by their second relay team, outpointed Great Bend 54-44 as the Lady Panthers' teams finished second and sixth.
"We don't know the scores most of the time, but we knew it was close," Wise said of that deciding race. "The girls were pretty wound up when they realized that they had won."
The team of Claire Schmidt, Katelyn Greene, Alexa Shaffer and Samantha Norton swam a time of 4:09.03, which automatically qualifies them for the Class 6A state meet in May.
"It's the first time we've had a state qualifying time in quite a long while," Wise said. "It's comforting to know we'll be going and don't have to wait for the time to be considered."
The fourth event of the 11-event meet proved to be a big factor in the final outcome as well.
That was the 50-yard freestyle, where Greene, a senior, swam the event for the first time all year and won with a time of 28.59 seconds, with freshman teammate Erika Schafer finishing just behind in 28.73 seconds. Another freshman, Abigail Ginest-Dougherty, garnered a fifth with a time of 29.18.
"That was a big event for us," Wise said. "It just changed the tide for us and we were able to stay right there until the final event. I wouldn't say that we swam our best overall for the day, but the girls pushed through and came up big."
Shaffer and Bradstreet went 2-5 in the 200-yard freestyle (2:19.36 and 2:24.82). Norton and Schmidt went third/fifth in the 200-yard individual medley (2:34.56 and 2:39.17). Norton also took third in the 100-yard butterfly (1:10.90) with Schafer and Erin Kuneyl going second and fourth in the 100-yard freestyle (1:03.94 and 1:06.68).
In the 500-yard freestyle, Schmidt established a sophomore school record by swimming a time of 6:12.98 and Shaffer was third in 6:24.96.
"It's a big swim for her," Wise said of Schmidt. "She broke the freshman record last year and has been trying to get this one. There was a lot of excitement when she beat the record."
Ashley Longoria was third in the 100-yard backstroke (1:16.00), while Bradstreet took third in the 100-yard breaststroke (1:23.01). The 200-yard medley relay team finished second to Great Bend, as Longoria, Bradstreet, Schmidt and Shaffer combined for a clocking of 2:13.11. In the 200-yard freestyle relay, Bradstreet, Schafer, Greene and Norton took third with a time of 1:54.37. That all-important fourth-place team finish in the 400-yard freestyle relay was comprised of Longoria, Kuneyl, Andrea Castillo and Schafer.
"As we've said all season, depth will be a big factor for us and it played a big role for us today," Wise said.
The Lady Buffs will be on the road again Saturday when they travel to Wichita Trinity. The meet starts at 1 p.m.