The season highlight reel keeps rolling along for the Garden City High School girls swimming team.
On Thursday at the Salina Central Invitational, senior Grace Schmidt qualified for the Class 6A state meet in the 200-yard freestyle with a time of 2:05.76, smashing the state standard qualifying time of 2:07.57.
Twice earlier in the season, Schmidt had come within a half second of the qualifying time, but finally got through the barrier Thursday.
“It was tears of joy since she had been so close before,” said GCHS coach Jennifer Meng. “She just killed it today, and we were all so very happy. It was very exciting for everyone.”
Schmidt’s performance was just one of a multitude of outstanding performances for the Buffs, who finished second in the team standings with 451 points, with Derby taking top honors with 505 points. Salina Central was a distant third at 399 in the six-team field.
The Buffs did that without the services of senior Kaitlyn Chappel, who stayed home to prepare for some final exams, a message that resonated with Meng despite the impact it had on the team standings.
“She’s an outstanding student, and certainly we missed her, but the academics are always an important part of what we do and is important to her,” Meng said. “I have no regrets about her staying home.”
Meng said that any number of swimmers cut times off their best marks of the season, perhaps none more dramatic than senior Josie Calzonetti, who trimmed nine seconds off her 500-yard freestyle winning time of 6:33.79.
“Cutting that much time off this time of year is really almost unheard of,” Meng said of Calzonetti’s mark.
Schmidt’s 200-yard freestyle win led a 1-2-3 sweep by the Buffs in the event as Calzonetti and Emma Dirks went 2-3 in times of 2:26.61 and 2:33.27. Schmidt also won the 100-yard backstroke in 1:07.26, just missing the state qualifying mark of 1:06.35. The 400-yard freestyle relay team of Neff, Emily Ortiz, Emma Tull and Schmidt won with a time of 4:06.38, a time that beat the state qualifying standard by nearly five seconds, but the team had already posted a state mark prior to Thursday.
Neff captured the 100-yard butterfly with a time of 1:09.80.
Second went to Tull in the 200-yard individual medley (2:26.32). The 200-yard medley relay unit of Schmidt, Tull, Neff and Ortiz also was a runner-up in a time of 2:07.01.
Neff and Chappel went 3-4 in the 50-yard freestyle with times of 28.25 and 28.93 seconds. Chappel and Ortiz had a 2-3 finish in the 100-yard freestyle with times of 1:03.68 and 1:04.36. The 200-yard freestyle relay team of Calzonetti, Laura Malagon Palacios, Megan Allen and Chappel took fourth in 2:01.82. Neff also was third in the 100-yard breaststroke in 1:15.47.
Meng credited a more strenuous training program, aided by assistant Brian Watkins (boys swim coach), for the improved marks this season as she winds down her second campaign at the helm of the program.
“We’re training them different, and Brian has been awesome for the program,” Meng said. “We’re doing many different things at practice and the improvement comes from that.”
Now the Buffs have a week to prepare for the Western Athletic Conference championship, which they will host on Thursday at 4 p.m. at the YMCA Pool. They will be trying for the first time to dethrone multiple-year champion Great Bend.
“I think we’re peaking at the right time — it certainly feels that way,” Meng said. “We’re hoping for some good swims next Thursday. The hard part is tapering the right amount and yet still prepare to swim our best at state (May 17-18 at Topeka).”
The Buffs now have Tull qualified for state in the 200-yard individual medley and the 100-yard breaststroke, Schmidt in the 200-yard freestyle and the three relay teams — medley, the 200-yard freestyle (Schmidt, Tull, Neff and Ortiz), and the 4x100-yard freestyle (Chappel, Schmidt, Neff and Ortiz).