Only one thing mattered.
Sure, Katelyn Blattner’s first priority was defending her Class 5A state titles in both the 200 and 500-yard freestyles Saturday at Topeka’s Capitol Federal Natatorium. But as the overwhelming favorite to win both, Blattner has spent all season with one goal in mind.
The Heights senior wanted the state meet record in the 500, one she’d come agonizingly close to a year ago when she won the event for the first time.
“It was in the back of my head like it could be possible as a sophomore,” Blattner said. “When I came close junior year, it was definitely something I wanted to get.”
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Not only did Blattner get the record, she obliterated it. Missing by less than a second last year, Blattner lowered the mark of 4:57.91 set by Trinity Academy’s Rebecca Swank in 2008 by more than two seconds with an eye-popping time of 4:55.52 — 24 seconds clear of the field.
“I was just swimming to go fast,” Blattner said. “I was just seeing how far I could get ahead of everyone instead of thinking ‘I’m out here by myself, where’s everybody at?’ I was just trying to go as hard as I could the whole time.
“I didn’t know exactly where I was at, but my brother (Bryce) was counting for me the whole time and he turned the board side to side, and to me that was the point I should probably pick it up, so I did.”
This much was clear. If Blattner was going to break the record, she was going to have to do it by herself. The top qualifier by nearly 15 seconds, Blattner opened up a 10-second lead midway through the race and extended it to 20 with 100 yards to go.
By that time, she was in full-blown take-it-down mode and easily on pace. All she needed to do over the final 100 was cover it in 1:02 and she did it in less than a minute.
When she saw the mark, Blattner burst into tears as the crowd gave her a standing ovation.
“My hard work’s definitely paid off,” Blattner said. “Missing my brother when he’s at college, waking up at 4:30 three times a week, going over 20 hours a week in the pool, doing dry land, doing weights — it’s all worth it right now.”
The record merely put a cap on an already remarkable career. Earlier in the day, Blattner handily won her fourth straight 200 freestyle title, winning by nearly five seconds in 1:51.66.
The gold haul gave the Falcon senior six titles in her career.
“Four-time state champion — you’ve got to come in and do that as a freshman and then back it up the next three years,” Heights coach Dale Heckman said. “She’s had an incredible career and had great dedication to the team. She’s an awesome, awesome teammate.”
Fantastic finale — Besieged by injuries for much of her high school career, Trinity Academy’s Taylor Kostboth made the tough decision that this year would be her final one competing in the sport, opting not to pursue it at the collegiate level.
And while she fell short of finishing her career in exactly the way she wanted — with the 50 freestyle state meet record — Kostboth could hardly complain about the way it did end. The Knight senior captured her third straight title in the 50 freestyle and then added the 100 freestyle in thrilling fashion to win double-gold for the first time in her career.
“I had no idea what was going to happen in the 100; I’d never swam that at state,” Kostboth said. “I was a little disappointed coming off the 50, but winning the 100 it made not getting the record in the 50 so bad.”
From the moment she came within .02 seconds of taking down the 50 free title last year, the time of 23.77 has been Kostboth’s focal point for her senior season. But it didn’t take long for the focus of Saturday’s final to shift to just winning as Great Bend’s Camryn Dunekack made a strong bid for the upset.
The two were virtually dead even from the start and neither could create any separation. Usually Kostboth gets a big push off the turn, but her foot slipped at the wall and into the gutter and forced her to scramble home.
It came down to the touch at the wall and Kostboth was just able to nip Dunekack at the finish, winning in 24.31 to Dunekack’s 24.48.
“Usually I can get a good lead off the turn because that’s my strongest point,” Kostboth said. “After I slipped, I was like ‘Oh gosh.’ When I won was happy though missing the record was pretty disappointing for me.”
Kostboth was only seeded third in the 100 after preliminaries, but was right in the hunt with Miege’s Cassie Grunhard and Dunekack. Kostboth got out to a fast start again and led after the 50 before Grunhard closed the gap.
After the near-photo finish, Kostboth had to do a double-take to realize she’d won, just nipping Grunhard by .12 seconds in 53.28.
“At the end I put my head down and went,” Kostboth said. “When I first saw the board, I thought I got second. But then I saw her slap the water and it didn’t look like a happy slap so I looked again. I was like, ‘Oh, I won!’”
Kostboth also anchored the Knights’ 200 freestyle relay to a third-place finish, teaming with Linnea Kirsten-Westgard, Lauren Mathews and Zoe Gardner for a 1:44.88, and the 400 freestyle relay to a fourth with the Gardner, Kirsten-Westgard and Sierra Williams going 3:51.01.
▪ Carroll’s Sydney Schmidt finished runner-up to Miege standout Cailey Grunhard in the 100 butterfly. Grunhard won in 54.12 while Schmidt was second in 59.74.
Schmidt also finished fifth in the 50 freestyle and helped the 200 medley relay to a third-place finish and the 400 freestyle relay to a runner-up finish.
Carroll teammate Lexie Shelton was runner-up to Blattner in the 500 freestyle, while teammate Tatum Hilger placed third. Hilger also finished fourth in the 200 freestyle and Shelton was fifth in the 100 breaststroke.
▪ Independent’s Madison Martin finished third in the 200 individual medley and fourth in the 100 breaststroke and Collegiate’s Addison Squires was third in the 100 butterfly and fourth in the 50 freestyle.