TOPEKA – When Olivia Tran qualified fastest in the Class 6A 100 backstroke Friday, it hardly came as a shock to anyone in the East girls swimming program. After all, the senior entered the state preliminaries with the fastest seed time by nearly a second.
When teammate Aiden Chan followed Tran as a top qualifier in the 100 breaststroke, well, it opened a few eyes.
“That fires me up so much, I was so surprised,” Tran said of her freshman teammate. “I’m so proud of her.”
Tran and her teammates might have been surprised, but Chan wasn’t. At least not by her position.
Seeded second in the breast, Chan trimmed more than a second and a half off her previous best and her time of 1:07.78 was nearly two seconds faster than Shawnee Mission East’s Mary Booton (1:09.71).
“I was actually not that surprised,” Chan said of qualifying the fastest. “I was a bit surprised I was able to get that time. That was a bigger goal.”
Tran took third at state last year in the backstroke admitted there was a bit of pressure during the prelims, even with defending state champion Bonnie Longan of SM East in the field. Yet, she knows the real pressure will come during Saturday’s finals as she tries to fight off Longan’s bid for a second straight title.
“There’s pressure both days,” said Tran, who clocked a 57.44 to easily beat Longan’s time of 59.05. “Today, you just don’t know what to expect from all the other swimmers. After you swim, and you’re still the top seed, there’s even more pressure than today. I think I’ve set myself up well for tomorrow, so we’ll see how it goes.”
Tran and Chan helped East’s 200 medley relay qualify second behind SM East, while Tran also qualified second in the 100 butterfly – an event in which Blue Valley Northwest’s Hannah Musser broke the state-meet record by .11 seconds with a qualifying mark of 54.89. The Blue Aces also got a pair of finals berths from freshman Madison Allen, and both freestyle relays qualified for the finals.
North’s Abbey Lassley qualified second in the 200 individual medley and fifth in the 100 back, and also helped the 200 freestyle relay to a finals berth.
“It feels really weird not having her here,” Kilgore said of Chesley, who swims collegiately at Georgetown. “I’m honored to try and take her place and do well for her.”
Chesley’s absence also created some different feelings for Kendall as she prepares for Saturday’s finals. Instead of trying to chase down her sister in the 50-yard freestyle, Kendall will be the one everyone’s gunning for in not only that event, but the 100 freestyle as well.
Despite entering the day without the fastest seed time in either of her individual events, Kilgore reached the top qualifying mark in each. She posted the best 50 by .25 seconds with a time of 24.20, then came back to top the field in the 100 with a mark of 53.23, which was nearly a full second better than her seed time.
“It’s going to be scary,” said Kilgore, who was second up in the 50 freestyle to Chesley at last year’s state meet and also finished seventh in the 100 butterfly. “I’m just going to try my best at it.”
Coming into the state meet, Kilgore’s top threat in each event figured to be Heights freshman Maggie Hatfield, who had the top seed time in both sprints. But bothered by an ailing shoulder, Hatfield only qualified fifth in each race, well off her season-best times (25.11 in the 50 and 55.71 in the 100).
Instead, Kilgore has a group of strong challengers to hold off in the 50 with Topeka West’s Laura Dicus (24.45) and St. Thomas Aquinas’ Holly Hanson (24.50) and Laila Carter (24.79). In the 100, Maize South’s Mia Gibson was the only other swimmer to break 54 seconds, clocking a 53.60.
“I just can’t think about anybody else,” Kilgore said. “I’m just going to block everyone else out and see how I do.”
Carroll’s Madison Hutchison was the only other Wichita swimmer to earn a top qualifying mark during Friday’s prelims, though the senior had to share hers. A two-time state runner-up in the 100 backstroke, Hutchison put herself in position to strike her first individual state gold with a time of 56.83 seconds.
But she’ll have one heck of a battle with Bishop Miege freshman Cailey Grunhard, the daughter of former Kansas City Chiefs center Tim Grunhard. The Stag sensation matched Hutchison’s qualifying time.
“I’m excited and it should be one of the races to watch (on Saturday) because it’s going to be super close,” Hutchison said. “Even a couple other girls are going to be right up there. When I saw (the time), I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, this is crazy!’ ”
In addition to her close calls in the backstroke at past state meets, Hutchison has also finished second in the 100 butterfly all three years. To get that elusive gold, she’ll have to deal with Grunhard again with the Stag qualifying first in 56.61 and Hutchison second in 58.46.
Though she desperately craves an individual gold to go with the 200 medley relay gold she helped win last year, Hutchison knows just how tough it will be and how she’ll feel if she falls short again.
“It has been really frustrating,” Hutchison said. “But either way if I get a state championship or don’t, as long as I know I put everything into it and swam my best, I think I’ll be happy. But having a state championship on top of that would be nice.”
Hutchison teamed with Kayla Hennen, Gabi Biby and Tatum Hilger to qualify second in the 200 medley relay in 1:55.38, well behind Aquinas’ 1:53.94.
Andover’s Meg Plank was the top qualifier in the 200 freestyle, dropping nearly three seconds off her seed time with a 1:57.68 that was more than a second faster than Seaman’s McKynley Larson (1:59.16). Heights’ Katelyn Blattner had entered with the top seed time, but qualified third in 2:00.35, while also qualifying fourth in the 500 freestyle.
Blattner and Hatfield helped Heights’ 400 freestyle relay qualify second in 3:49.06, just ahead of Carroll. The Falcons also qualified third in the 200 freestyle relay with Trinity qualifying second.