Gavin Smith wasn’t the least-bit surprised when he looked at the clock and saw he had posted the fastest qualifying time in the 100-yard butterfly during Friday’s Class 5A swimming preliminaries.
After all, he’d entered the state meet with a season-best time that was nearly two seconds better than anyone else in the field. So his time of 52.72 seconds that topped runner-up Dawson Gantenbein of Heights by 1.79 seconds wasn’t a big shocker.
His performance in his other individual event, on the other hand, totally caught the Rose Hill sophomore off guard. Seeded second in the 50 freestyle, Smith posted a career-best time of 21.83 to match Miege’s Jack Wirtz for the fastest time of the day.
“It’s exciting because I wasn’t expecting that at all,” said Smith, who is bidding to become Rose Hill’s first state swimming champion. “I had no idea how fast I’d gone. I was really surprised by that. I was expecting to do good, but I was not expecting that. I’m looking forward to the finals.”
Smith led a strong showing by the Rockets, who are in their third season as a program. He teamed with Brady Mounts, Noah Baden and Matt Baden to qualify fourth in the 200 medley relay in 1:44.11 and with the same trio to qualify second in the 200 freestyle relay in 1:32.55.
In addition, Noah Baden qualified third in both the 500 freestyle and 100 breaststroke and the Rockets got consolation final swims from Matt Baden (50 freestyle), Mounts (100 backstroke) and Austin Farber (200 individual medley).
“It’s grown a lot,” Smith said. “We started off with six people our first year, then 13 last year and now we’ve got 21 with seven at state.”
Heights picked up a pair of top qualifiers as well. The 200 medley relay team of Gantenbein, Bryce Blattner, Creighton Sanders and Dylan Jensen opened the day with the top time in 1:40.13 and the 400 freestyle relay team of Gantenbein, Jensen, Blattner and Dillon Cullinan finished the prelims with the fastest mark in 3:19.90.
Blattner led the Falcons individually, qualifying second in both the 200 individual medley and 100 backstroke. He had entered with the fastest seed time in the IM, but saw Shawnee Heights’ Kevin McGowan overtake him for the top spot in prelims. In the backstroke, Blattner finished behind defending state champion Jon Lavalle of Maize South, who qualified first in 51.25.
Independent’s Richard Zirkle also qualified second in two events, finishing well behind Hayden’s John-Martin Schmidt in the 200 freestyle and coming in less than a second behind Wirtz in the 100 freestyle.
Carroll’s Will Smith, the defending champion in the 100 breaststroke, qualified fourth behind McGowan, Newton’s Jace Schmidt and Rose Hill’s Baden.
Despite entering the state meet seeded just fifth in the 200 individual medley, Clemons let the rest of the field know he’ll be someone to contend with in Saturday’s finals. The Eagle junior knocked more than four seconds off his seed time in Friday’s prelims, clocking a 1:54.66 to qualifying first in the event — more than a second ahead of Free State’s Canaan Campbell.
“It was such a huge confidence boost and kind of told me where I was at for the rest of the day,” said Clemons, who was second at last year’s state meet in the event. “I was expecting a drop because I’ve been working hard all year and this is state, so it’s go time.”
Clemons also posted the fastest time in the 100 butterfly with a 52.16 that was slower than his seed time, but .15 seconds quicker than East’s Brandon Kingrey on Friday.
Among those Clemons catapulted past in the IM was East’s Nate Pirner, who entered the day as the top seed in both the IM and 100 breaststroke, an event he won last year in helping the Aces to the team title. Pirner will be the chaser this year as he qualified fifth in the IM and fourth in the breaststroke.
Still, Clemons fully expects Pirner to be right there in Saturday’s finals.
“Me and Nate are good buds, on the same club team so we swim together all the time,” Clemons said. “It’s just going to be an awesome race. It will just be who’s having a better day. I’ve got a bunch of confidence, but it’s also a bunch of pressure.”
Maize’s Preston Barley joined Clemons with a top qualifying time, posting the fastest mark in the 200 freestyle in 1:43.62, less than a second ahead of Blue Valley North’s Will Vance (1:44.31). East had a trio of No. 2 qualifiers with Brandon Shinsato (100 backstroke) and the 200 freestyle relay team of Pirner, Will Spitz, Kevin Kilgour and Andrew Sousa joining Kingrey.
In all, East had 14 entries qualify for Saturday’s championship finals as the Blue Aces try to defend their state title.