TOPEKA – Three weeks ago, Katelyn Blattner thought her high school swimming season was done.
While doing dry land training, the Heights sophomore slipped and fell, landing squarely on her right elbow. After going to the doctor, Blattner learned she had fractured a bone in the elbow.
Her season was seemingly over.
“I cried,” Blattner said. “That’s the most I’ve ever cried.”
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The injury forced Blattner to miss the City League meet, but she was cleared to return for this weekend’s Class 5-1A championships. And Blattner made the most of her second chance, defending her title in the 200-yard freestyle Saturday.
Feeling fortunate just to qualify fourth for the finals, Blattner left the field in her wake in the championship. She knocked more than four seconds off her preliminary time and nearly matched her winning time of a year ago, winning by nearly a second over Andover’s Meg Plank in 1 minute, 54.47 seconds.
“When I found out I was cleared for state, I was so excited and I wanted to make the best out of it,” Blattner said. “I had no goals really for this meet. I just came in knowing I was going to try my best and see what happened.”
Blattner was merely one member of the walking wounded to come away from Saturday’s finals with state gold.
Trinity Academy’s Taylor Kostboth and Kendall Kilgore each have been hampered by nagging injuries, throughout the season and for Kostboth, her entire career. Yet each fought through to capture titles, with Kostboth taking the crown in the 50 freestyle and Kilgore winning the 100 freestyle.
“I just never thought this was possible,” said Kostboth, who has dealt with bulging discs in her lower back for three years. “I’ve been struggling with this injury for so long and I’ve only been practicing with my high school where I’d been doing club before. I just can’t believe this right now.”
Kostboth had thrust herself square into the title hunt by qualifying second, just .02 seconds behind St. Thomas Aquinas’ Holly Hanson. But competing on back-to-back days can tax her back and she wondered how she’d respond.
She did so like a champion, cutting another .23 seconds off her prelim time to win in 23.99 seconds, .31 ahead of Hanson and .40 faster than Kilgore, who was third.
“I just pulled everything I had in me and went all out,” said Kostboth, who also took third in the 100 breaststroke. “Before high school, I took three months off. I was just doing this to be with my team and help them as much as possible. I never thought this was an option.”
Kilgore, meanwhile, has battled tendinitis in her shoulders, which she deemed not that severe. It hardly seemed to affect her as she followed up her top prelim time with another stellar race, edging Maize South’s Mia Gibson for the 100 freestyle title in 53.08.
“It’s just so amazing, I can’t believe it,” Kilgore said. “I wasn’t expecting anything like this at all. I’m just thrilled. I can still swim through it because if I couldn’t I wouldn’t be here.”
Gibson didn’t leave the pool without gold, however. After her near-miss in the 100 freestyle, she came back to pull off the closest victory of the day in the 100 backstroke.
The Mavericks sophomore had qualified more than a second slower than Topeka West’s Laura Dicus and wasn’t sure she could track her rival down. But after making the turn at the 50-yard mark just .02 seconds behind Dicus, Gibson knew she was in position to pull the upset.
She powered home and barely edged Dicus at the wall, winning by .03 seconds in 56.64 – a drop of more than two seconds from her previous best.
“I was very, very worried for her to go out in prelims almost two seconds ahead of me,” Gibson said. “That freaked me out. But it was a great race for her and I’m glad she was next to me because there’s no way I could have had that kind of race without her.”
Andover Central’s Brooke Dreiling didn’t have to sweat out her finish to win the 500 freestyle. In fact, it hardly looked like the Jaguar junior broke a sweat in getting her gold.
Dreiling began to pull away from the field early and never let anyone get close, winning by nearly 11 seconds in 5:06.64.
“It was a lot of fun,” Dreiling said. “I didn’t really know what to expect because one girl dropped like 14 seconds yesterday. I just made sure to come out and push it. About the 300 mark I knew I was OK, but I also knew I couldn’t slow down. I had to keep pushing it.”
Dreiling also took second in the 200-yard individual medley in 2:11.39, .19 seconds behind champion Isabelle Finzen of Blue Valley Southwest. Both swimmers saw their places bump up one spot when Miege’s Cailey Grunhard was disqualified for an illegal turn after cruising to the title by nearly five seconds.
Andover’s Plank posted a pair of top-three finishes, taking second to Blattner in the 200 freestyle and finishing third in the 100 butterfly in 59.75.
Blattner also finished fourth in the 100 freestyle, but still found satisfaction in not only her performance, but also in that of teammate Maggie Hatfield, who returned from a broken ankle to swim at state. Hatfield couldn’t defend her 50 freestyle title, taking eighth, but just being there and competing was big for both Falcons.
“It’s been a rough experience for the both of us,” said Blattner, who was wearing a sling for her injured elbow after the meet. “We were both really devastated, but when we knew we could swim, it would be great for our team and representing Heights. We’ve both been hard on ourselves, but today picked us up a bit.”
Maize South’s 200 medley relay finished runner-up, as did Trinity’s 200 freestyle relay. Carroll’s 400 freestyle relay also posted a runner-up finish, moving up a spot when Miege was disqualified after finishing behind Blue Valley Southwest.
BV Southwest ran away with the team title, winning by more than 200 points.