The team result was no longer in doubt — Great Bend was going to win yet another WAC girls swimming title.
But the host Garden City Buffaloes were swimming for another goal in the final race of the day at the Garden City YMCA pool Thursday evening: beat Great Bend in a relay for the second time in the meet, and break four minutes in the 400 freestyle.
Senior anchor Grace Schmidt’s final reach for the wall came in at 3 minutes, 59.53 seconds, dusting Great Bend's top relay team by nearly five seconds. Schmidt and her relay-mates, Kirstin Neff, Ashleigh Chappel and Emma Tull, exploded in celebration, as did head coach Jennifer Meng and assistant Brian Watkins.
It was high-fives and hugs all around as the Buffs capped a solid appearance in the WAC meet, finishing in second with 375 points, behind Great Bend’s 415. Dodge City took third with 232, Liberal was fourth with 174 and Hays was fifth with 66.
“That was crazy,” Schmidt said of the relay time. “We were so thrilled. That was the first time we broke four minutes since we set (the school record in 2016), and we’ve always trailed Great Bend in that race."
The school record is 3:56, but the last time the Buffs beat Great Bend in the 400 free relay was in 2015, when the Buffs fell just 15 points short of beating the Panthers for the WAC title. That year, the disappointment in not getting the win was evident.
But this time, the Buffs were all smiles for the performance that put on.
“I think we put too much pressure on beating Great Bend, when today was probably the best team meet we’ve had all year, and I think we should be proud of that,” Tull said.
So when the Panthers jumped in the pool to celebrate their win, the Buffs followed to celebrate their own performance.
“I’m honestly not even disappointed that we lost to Great Bend,” Schmidt said. “A lot of us swam personal bests, the relays did great, so I would consider it a great day.”
Schmidt had an especially good day, qualifying for the state meet in the 100-yard backstroke in a time of 1:06.22, taking the gold in that event.
“I honestly wasn’t expecting to get it today, just because I don’t swim my best here, but I think the adrenaline and how the meet was going kinda helped me,” Schmidt said. “I’m happy I can swim two individual (events) again this year, so hopefully I can make it to the second day in one of my events.”
She also took first in the 200 free (2:09.77) — the other event she has qualified for state — and was the starter on the gold medal 200-yard medley relay team (also comprised of Tull, Neff and Emily Ortiz) that began the event with a win over Great Bend in a time of 2:01.40.
Tull was the other individual winner for the Buffs, winning the 100 breaststroke in 1:12.68. She was also second in the 200 individual medley, less than a second behind Great Bend’s Lea Weckerle (2:19.86 to 2:20.74). The Buffs also got a second place from Josephine Calzonetti in the 500 free (6:42.83), and numerous other points from Neff, Chappel, Ortiz and others.
“The fact that we could do as well as we did and still not win is crazy,” Meng said. “It’s those three, four, five places that we don’t have enough of.”
The Buffs swim with 16 or fewer, depending on the meet, while Great Bend has well over 30 swimmers. Proving Great Bend's depth, the Panthers took third, fourth and fifth in the 200-yard medley relay.
“If we would have one or two more solid swimmers, that would make all the difference in the world,” Meng said.
Regardless, the Buffs still have a solid contingent going to the state meet, which is set for May 17 through 19 at the Topeka-Capitol Federal Natatorium.