Even as she was positioning herself for a pair of individual state swimming golds in Friday’s preliminaries, Astrid Dirkzwager consistently emphasized the significance her performance held for her Wichita East team.
So it was little surprise after she captured Class 6A state titles in both the 200-yard freestyle and 100 backstroke Saturday at Topeka’s Capitol Federal Natatorium, it was a victory in the final relay of the day that was her favorite.
“That was the most important one for sure,” Dirkzwager said.
The freshman entered the pool nearly three seconds behind Shawnee Mission East anchor Izzy Smith in the 400 freestyle relay and tracked down her rival. Not only did Dirkzwager deliver the relay victory by a full second, she also put the finishing touch on East’s first girls state swimming title.
The Blue Aces finished with 296 points to edge SM East by 14 points, ending the Lancers’ reign atop Class 6A. After three straight fourth-place finishes, a state trophy was going to be satisfying enough for East.
“We’ve been working really hard and we knew it would be close this year, but we had no idea we would be able to do what we did today,” East senior Madison Allen said. “(SM East) is a very good school with a great tradition and having a competition with them today was just amazing. I couldn’t have asked for a better way for this to end.
“We just needed second on that last relay, but I guess that wasn’t good enough for Astrid.”
Not after the freshman already had proved she wouldn’t settle for anything less than first in her individual events.
Her title in the 100 backstroke wasn’t ever really in doubt. After qualifying more than two seconds faster than her closest competitor, Dirkzwager dominated the final as well, winning by two and a half seconds in 55.33 seconds.
Dirkzwager’s title in the 200 freestyle, however, was anything but a sure thing. She had qualified second behind Free State’s Claire Campbell, and found herself in a battle with SM East’s Crissie Blomquist.
Sitting second just behind Blomquist after the first 100, Dirkzwager turned it on over the last 100 and won by .48 seconds in 1:50.40.
“I just wanted to go through my race strategy and I wasn’t really expecting to win,” Dirkzwager said. “But knowing my teammates have my back and my family is here supporting me really helped. That gave me a lot of confidence for the rest of the day.”
Her comeback win for the 200 free title was nothing compared to her final performance.
Dirkzwager made up nearly two seconds on her first 50 and kept charging hard, overtaking Smith to win going away.
“Before we came here, we watched that men’s 4-by-1 relay and that really motivated us,” Dirkzwager said, referring to the U.S. men’s Olympic victory. “I really wanted to win for my team and I could feel riding her wave and pushing my hardest I’d get her.”
East teammate Katerina Savvides — who joined Dirkzwager, Allen and Julia Whitfield on the winning relay — took third in both the 200 individual medley and 100 backstroke, while Allen added a third in the 50 freestyle and fourth in the 100 freestyle as both joined Dirkzwager as first-team All-Staters.
Savvides, Allen, Aidan Chan and Janis Hwang teamed for a runner-up finish in the 200 medley relay, falling .23 seconds shy of Lawrence’s winning time of 1:50.31. Dirkzwager, Whitfield, Chan and Hannah Balch finished second in the 200 freestyle relay in 1:41.14, Chan was fourth in the 100 breaststroke and diver Kara Clough added a fifth as East earned its first state trophy since a runner-up finish in 1998.
“For us seniors, the motivation was not just last year, but the two years before that when we got fourth,” Allen said. “We knew it was our time to do something great and we had to go out with a bang.”
Keil doubles — As easy as Derby junior Megan Keil made things look in Friday’s preliminaries, she knew winning state titles in the 50 and 100 freestyle wasn’t going to be an easy feat on Saturday.
And sure enough, when she made the turn for the final 50 yards of the 100 freestyle, she had her hands full with Shawnee Mission North’s Joely Merriman, the defending champion in the event.
Keil never wavered and though she wasn’t sure if she’d done enough to dethrone Merriman, the clock said she did as she out-touched the junior by .30 seconds to sweep the freestyle sprints. Keil won in 51.00 seconds with Merriman right behind in 51.30.
“I couldn’t tell at first when we touched the wall who’d won,” said Keil, who had qualified two seconds faster than Merriman and a second faster than Free State’s Claire Campbell, who took third. “It was relief. I was definitely more nervous for the 100 than the 50 because everyone’s really good. But it was a fun race.”
Keil couldn’t quite duplicate her record-setting time from Friday in the 50 freestyle when she broke the record with a time of 22.74. But she wasn’t far off, either, turning in a 22.91 to nip Merriman for that title as well, winning by .76 seconds.
“She’s really good,” Keil said of Merriman. “It wasn’t as fast as yesterday, but going that time yesterday I was happy with that. There was really no pressure today and I could just go race.”
Keil’s double-gold performance earned her athlete of the meet honors.
McCullough’s medals — All West freshman Maci McCullough needed to do Saturday to accomplish her state goal was maintain her qualifying position of third in both the 200 individual medley and 500 freestyle.
Instead, she did better.
McCullough trimmed more time in Saturday’s finals and swam away with a pair of runner-up finishes. She dropped three seconds off her qualifying time in the 500 free to post a 5:03.78 and took a few tenths off in the 200 IM to take second in 2:08.72.
Though both times were well behind the champions in each event — SM East’s Crissie Blomquist won the 500 free in 4:56.87 and Olathe North’s Anika Lam won the IM in 2:05.00 — the day was plenty satisfying for McCullough.
“I’m really excited I did as well as I did,” McCullough said. “My goal walking into state was getting third in both events and I did better than that. I’ve raced against them before and they’re pretty amazing. I knew Crissie would be outstanding. The IM I wish I could have got a little closer, but it was still good.”