Bryce Blattner is well-schooled on the championship excellence produced by the athletic teams at Heights High.
Just in this decade, the Falcons have won state titles in boys and girls basketball, girls bowling, football and wrestling.
It’s enough to make Blattner, the senior captain of Heights’ boys swim team, want to join the party.
“To be honest, when last season started, I was thinking more about individual performances and competing on the relays,” Blattner said. “Then we saw we were in (Class 5-1A) and started looking at times and where everybody was placing in meets. We realized if we could get more guys to qualify for state, we’d have a chance to bring home something we’ve never done at Heights.”
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The Falcons came close, finishing second to Bishop Miege in the 5-1A meet at Topeka. Blattner, a Missouri State signee, won the 200-yard individual medley title and was part of two victorious relays to highlight an impressive performance by Heights in which it scored in all 12 events.
Miege, which outscored Heights 261-242, graduated five seniors who helped the Stags win that title. With Blattner and six other Falcons who qualified for state finals returning, Heights hopes to unseat Miege this season.
“The deeper into last season we got, the more those young kids really bought in and worked hard,” Heights coach Dale Heckman said. “That’s carried over to this year.”
The Falcons’ state-champion relay teams return intact. Blattner, juniors Dawson Gantenbein and Creighton Sanders, and sophomore Dylan Jensen opened last year’s 5-1A finals with a victory in the 200 medley relay (1:38.64). Blattner, Gantenbein, Jensen and senior Dillon Cullinan closed the meet by winning the 400 freestyle relay in 3:16.89.
“The team aspect is just so much more fun,” said Blattner, who competes year round with the Wichita Aqua Shox. “In club swimming, you’re trying to beat that guy next to you, but you’re also really focused on time.
“In high school swimming, a big part of it is, ‘Did I get the most points I could get for my team?’ I really enjoy it.”
Blattner narrowly missed a perfect final day at state, finishing second to Maize South’s Jon Lavalle in the 100 backstroke. Gantenbein was second in the 100 butterfly and third in the 50 freestyle, with Jensen right behind him.
Senior Dallas Tilson adds depth and experience to this year’s team after advancing through the state preliminaries in two events. Junior Cole Hager was part of the 200 freestyle relay with Tilson, and also competed both days at state.
Heckman believes he has a squad built to compete for titles in invitationals and at the state meet. How it translates to the City League’s dual format in the Falcons’ bid to overtake reigning champion East remains to be seen.
“We’re going to find out real quick with against East and Carroll,” Heckman said of the Falcons’ Dec. 11 triangular at Heights. “I think it’s going to be a lot closer than it’s been in the past. You just never know. Duals are a different beast.”
Regardless, Blattner expects the spotlight to be brighter for the Falcons after what they accomplished in 2013-14.
“We kind of felt like we had that underdog role last year,” Blattner said. “But everybody saw what we did. … Now it seems like we have the target on our backs.”
CITY LEAGUE SWIMMERS TO WATCH
Carroll – Jacob Khoury, sr.; Brock Lubbers, so.
East – Joseph Draut, sr.; Josh Dutton, sr.; Henry Gridley, sr.; David Vu, sr.; Colin Hutton, so.; Matthew Randle, so.
Heights – Bryce Blattner, sr., 5-1A champion in 200 individual medley; Dillon Cullinan, sr.; Dallas Tilson, sr.; Dawson Gantenbein, jr.; Creighton Sanders, jr.; Dylan Jensen, so.
Kapaun – Will Devries, sr.; Patrick Hullings, sr.; Reese Wilkes, sr.; Jack Urban, jr.
North – Jackson Cheek, sr.; Riley Roach, sr.
Northwest – Chad Butler, sr.; Noah Williams, jr.; Owen Barker, so.
South – Braylon Harris, sr.; Nathan Corn, jr.; Isaiah Gough, jr.; Robbie Morrison, jr.
Southeast – Cory Whitetree, sr.; Tommy Wong, sr.; Ricky Rogers, jr.; Lucas Chinn, fr.
West – Bailey Chavez, jr.; Dominick Jones, jr.; John McCullough, jr.