Even though Megan Keil never went head to head with Free State’s Courtney Caldwell as a freshman at the 2015 Class 6A swimming meet, the Derby standout fully remembers watching the Firebird senior in awe.
“I really looked up to her because she was incredible, so much faster than everyone else,” Keil said. “She really set those records low.”
At that point, Keil only dreamed that some day she could entertain thoughts of trying challenge Caldwell’s marks in her specialties, the 50 and 100 freestyles.
That was then. On Friday during the 6A preliminariesCapitol Federal Natatorium, the Panther junior turned dreams into reality, erasing Caldwell from the record book in the 50 freestyle.
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Taking second as a freshman before not swimming for the Panthers last year, Keil left no doubt she’s the favorite on Saturday. Her time of 22.74 seconds was not only more than a second faster than her closest competitor, it also smashed Caldwell’s 2013 record of 23.05.
“It was really surprising,” Keil said. “I was expecting to be close to the record, maybe 23-low. I wasn’t sure I would get down to 22s. Once I saw it, it was pretty exciting.”
Keil also was the top qualifier in the 100 freestyle, turning in a 50.86 to finish nearly a second faster than Free State’s Claire Campbell (51.82). Caldwell also holds the 6A meet record in that event, but Keil said that time — a 49.62 in 2015 — would be extremely tough to threaten this year.
“Oh gosh, that’s really fast,” said Keil, whose career best in the event was Friday’s time. “It would take a really big cut. I’d like to go low 50s and 49 is always a goal. But it would take a lot.”
Fabulous freshmen — Maci McCullough was as nervous as she could be. Astrid Dirkzwager was a bit more calm.
Each were making their state meet debuts and each handled them like seasoned veterans.
Dirkzwager, a freshman at East, turned in the fastest qualifying time in the 100 backstroke and did so in dominating fashion. Her time of 55.67 seconds was more than two seconds ahead of her closest challenger, Blue Valley Northwest’s Rachel Lyle (58.10).
“My team really helped calm me down with their support,” Dirkzwager said. “They gave me confidence. It felt a lot better than I thought it would because I had swam the relay right before it and I wasn’t sure how it would go. It went really well.”
Dirkzwager also qualified second in the 200 freestyle, .25 seconds behind Free State’s Campbell in 1:52.04, and anchored the Blue Aces’ 400 freestyle relay to the top qualifying time, teaming with Madison Allen, Julia Whitfield and Katerina Savvides for a 3:36.20, which was a second faster than Shawnee Mission East.
While Dirkzwager had her teammates to help calm her nerves, McCullough is West’s lone qualifier and had to go it alone.
“I was really nervous walking into this,” McCullough said. “All the girls who are here are so fast. It’s fun, but it’s scary at the same time.”
Once she got in the pool, however, McCullough was plenty calm. She knocked nearly a second off her seed time in the 200 individual medley, qualifying third in 2:08.94 and then whacked more than eight seconds off her season-best in the 500 freestyle with a 5:06.61, which also qualified her third.
McCullough was a second behind top qualifier Anika Lam of Olathe North in the 200 IM (2:07.70) and will have to make up a six-second gap in the 500 on SM East’s Crissie Blomquist (5:00.09).
But she’s already knocked out one big goal she had for the meet.
“I just wanted to make top eight and get medals,” McCullough said. “I really wanted to be on that medal stand.”
East positions for trophy — Led by Dirkzwager’s dazzling debut, East put itself in position to crack the top three in the team standings and earn a state trophy. The Blue Aces have been fourth the past three years, by seven points in 2015.
Dirkzwager could have company atop the medal stand if Aiden Chan can survive a loaded field in the 100 breaststroke. Second in the event the past two years after claiming the title as a freshman, Chan has a shot at finishing her prep career as a champion, but it will take a big swim on Saturday.
Her time of 1:08.00 was just off her season best of 1:07.40, but only qualified her fourth in a field filled with defending champion Elena Almoguera of Topeka and freshmen sensations Marian Frick of Lawrence and Emma Willmer of Olathe Northwest.
Frick was tops on Friday in 1:06.10, followed by Willmer (1:06.81) and Almoguera (1:07.10).
“In some ways, I feel like I do go faster when there are other people there to push me,” Chan said. “I just have to find that one thing to get me going. I think I’ll be a bit more prepared (in the final) because I don’t think I was today.”
Chan teamed with Savvides, Allen and Janis Hwang to qualify second in the 200 medley relay, but only by a minimal margin with their time of 1:50.87 just .09 behind Free State. Chan, Dirkzwager, Whitfield and Hannah Balch also qualified third in the 200 freestyle relay.
Savvides also made the championship finals in the 100 backstroke, qualifying third in 58.24, and 200 individual medley (eighth, 2:12.66). Allen qualified fourth in the 50 free (24.59) and 100 free (52.90) and the Blue Aces also picked up eight consolation swims.