The situation was a bit surreal for Audra Hansen.
Two years ago, the Andover freestyler was at the state swim meet, but merely as a spectator after not posting a qualifying mark. But she watched her specialty event and marveled at the double-gold performance turned in by Trinity Academy’s Chesley Kilgore.
"I saw her win those events and I just thought she was so good," Hansen said. "Now it’s crazy that it’s me."
If Kilgore is to win her third straight Class 5-1A 50-yard freestyle title, she’s going to have to overtake Hansen to do it. The Andover senior had a stellar day during Friday’s preliminaries at Capitol Federal Natatorium, posting the fastest qualifying times in both the 50 and 100 freestyles.
Hansen was nearly a half-second faster than the field in the 50 free, clocking a time of 24.61 seconds that put her ahead of Blue Valley Southwest’s Megan Becker (24.95) and Kilgore (25.12). In the 100 free, Hansen was even better as her time of 52.88 was more than two seconds faster than Blue Valley’s Helena Bertels (54.96) and Kilgore (55.12).
"That’s not what I was expecting," said Hansen, who placed top-six in both events at last year’s state meet with her best showing a fourth in the 50 free. "I wanted to go best times, and I knew I was top-seeded in the 100 free going in, but I wasn’t really ready for that time. I was hoping for it, but that was really good."
Now, instead of trying to chase down Kilgore, who has won the 50 free the past two years and was the 100 free champion in 2010, Hansen is the one that is being chased.
"I swim with her all the time," Hansen said of Kilgore. "Now I’m in that position. I like it. I think it will push me."
Independent’s Kate Wickham also finds herself in the favorite position after posting the fastest qualifying time in the 200 freestyle. Wickham entered the meet just behind top-seeded Sarah Schmidt of Newton, but firmly established herself as the one to beat today.
Never having gone under two minutes in the event, Wickham clocked a 1:59.86, which was nearly two seconds faster than Schmidt’s 2:01.66.
"It was a huge, huge goal of mine," Wickham said of cracking the two-minute barrier. "I wasn’t sure I was going to get it, but I was very surprised when I saw the time. I like going in as the No. 1 seed, and I just have to use that to motivate myself even more because I’ll be competing against really great people."
Wickham also blew away her heat in the 500 freestyle with a time of 5:19.09, but will have some work to do to put herself in position for two gold medals. Aquinas’ Kaela Ropson entered with the best time and posted a 5:17.32 in qualifying, and both will be chasing Lawrence Seabury’s Phoebe Grabill, who blazed to a time of 5:12.82.
"I was just happy to get a good spot going into finals," Wickham said. "It will be a good race, but they’re very fast. Hopefully I can get down there with them."
Kilgore isn’t the only defending champion with work to do today to defend their crown. Independent’s Brooke Brittain claimed the 100 backstroke crown last year, but qualified third at 59.04. Blue Valley Southwest’s Anna Rasmussen was the top qualifier at 57.84, while Carroll’s Madison Hutchison was second in 58.76.
Hutchinson entered the prelims with the top time in the 100 butterfly, but also qualified third in 1:00.46. Seabury’s Grabill was tops at 59.37 and Newton’s Christina Entz was second in 1:00.35.
Newton’s Betti Fuhr set herself up for a pair of gold with the top qualifying marks in the 200 individual medley and 100 breaststroke. Fuhr was just more than two seconds better than the field in the 200 IM in 2:09.97 and looks untouchable in the breast with her time of 1:06.84 more than four seconds faster than the field. Newton also had the fastest 200 freestyle relay time by two seconds at 1:43.09.
In Class 6A, North’s Abbey Lassley didn’t have much time to catch her breath for the 100 butterfly after swimming the anchor leg of the Redskins’ 200 freestyle relay. Turns out, she really didn’t need a break.
Lassley went out and turned in a 59.98 that held up through the final two heats.
"I knew that they were going to be hard to beat," Lassley said of Shawnee Mission West’s Kate Snyder and Olathe Northwest’s Mackenzie Neeley, each of whom had turned in sub-minute times this season. "They are crazy good swimmers. I just gave it all I had."
Lassley also qualified fifth in the 50 free, but her time of 24.94 was well off the pace set by Lawrence Free State freshman Courtney Caldwell, who set a 6A state-meet record at 23.49, breaking the old mark of 23.57 set by Topeka High’s Shara Stafford in 2006.