Grace Schmidt had wanted to see if she could swim competitively in what had been one of her favorite races two years ago as a sophomore — the 100-yard backstroke.
Little did she expect to be at her fastest in the Garden City High School’s opening meet of the season, especially considering there was a surprise entry from Dodge City, foreign exchange student Lea Weckerle.
But the Buffs’ senior came through with a surprisingly strong time of 1:07.68 to finish just ahead of Weckerle, who was right behind in 1:08.29. Schmidt’s time was just 1.33 seconds off the state qualifying standard.
Schmidt also claimed a second gold in the GCHS Quadrangular as the Buffs won the team competition going away with 437 points, easily outdistancing Dodge City, which finished with 318. Liberal was third with 249 and Holcomb, in its first-ever competitive swim meet, scored 106 points.
“It was pretty good considering it’s the first meet of the season,” a tired, but happy Schmidt said after her final race. “My 200 (freestyle) was just about where it was last year, but since I didn’t swim the back last year, I wasn’t sure how it would go.”
It went well enough that she was close to her personal record, giving her a jolt of confidence.
Schmidt’s second win the 200-yard free in a time of 2:12.50 helped the Buffs to nine wins in the 12 events as they dominated two of their Western Athletic Conference foes in Dodge and Liberal.
“I’m excited to get close to the P.R. in the back,” Schmidt said. “We’ve been doing more race-pace strategy swimming in practice, so I feel like I’m just swimming faster.”
With little recovery time between some of her races, Schmidt said she looks forward to competing in bigger events as those provide extra time to recuperate.
“Only a few minutes between a couple of events,” said Schmidt, who also swam on the state-qualifying 200-yard medley relay that posted a winning time of 2:04.12, beating the state qualifying mark of 2:06.79. “Kind of hard to be at full strength right after the medley, but the distance training is really paying off.”
Schmidt said as she begins her fourth and final season on the team, she was unsure how her senior campaign would go.
“Sometimes, when you’re a senior I think it’s just hard to push your way through,” she said, “but this feels really good, and the times give me motivation and have boosted my morale.”
Kirsten Neff was another double-winner for the Buffs, as the junior captured the 50-yard freestyle in 27.81 seconds, about 1.5 seconds off the state qualifying standard of 26.29. She also posted a win in the 100-yard butterfly in a time of 1:09.75.
Those two combined with junior Emma Tull and freshman Ashleigh Chappel to win both the 200-yard medley and then earn a state qualifying time by winning the 400-yard freestyle in 4:10.28, just below the state standard of 4:11.30.
“Overall, I thought the meet went really well for the girls,” coach Jennifer Meng said. “We had a few rocky things take place, so I’m still trying to work through that.”
Meng was referring to the automatic timing system generally used that was malfunctioning and officials couldn’t get it fixed. So they had to recruit a number of timers to capture the marks with hand-held stopwatches.
“A number of the girls got P.R.’s today and that’s always encouraging,” Meng said. “Grace’s backstroke was really impressive. When she came and told me she’d like to try it, I just said, ‘OK, let’s do it,’ and it worked out well.”
One downside was the disqualification in the 100-yard breaststroke of Tull, who false-started, but would have handily won the event.
“Disappointed for Emma, but that’s a technical thing and we will get that fixed quickly,” Meng said. “I’m proud of the way girls competed in the first meet of the season. I feel real encouraged.”
The Buffs will have little time to regroup as they head to Wichita Heights Friday for a 6 p.m. meet.
Holcomb notes: The Longhorns girls made their program debut Thursday, with Lauren Jones’ second-place finish in the 50-yard freestyle (29.46 secs.) being the highest placing of the day.
The 200-yard freestyle relay team of Remmi and Mady Knoll, Emma Mangels and Jones took third with a time of 2:08.59.