Varsity Kansas

Preston Barley keys big day for Maize at state swimming prelims

Preston Barley admits there just isn’t a whole lot of difference between the Class 5-1A and Class 6A state swimming championships.

“It’s just as fast,” Barley said. “It’s always going to be fast at state no matter what level.”

The environment at Friday’s Class 5-1A state meet might have a slightly different feel for Barley and his Maize teammates, who dropped from Class 6A this year, but his position coming out of the preliminaries sure looked the same. For the third time in three years, Barley locked up the top qualifying time in the 200-yard freestyle.

Now, the Maize senior hopes Saturday has a completely new look. Namely one taken from the top of the medal stand.

Despite earning top seeds the past two years, Barley is still looking for his first individual state title. In 2014 as a sophomore, he was knocked off by Free State’s Jordan Portela after leading for much of the race. Last year he slipped to third, overtaken by both Portela and Olathe East’s Dylan Walters.

Those shortcomings have served as plenty of motivation for Barley’s final go this season.

“It’s huge,” he said. “I’ve been shooting for a state title since my sophomore year. It might be my last meet tomorrow so I want to go out on top. I just have to do what I’ve been doing for 13 years, just swim my race.”

If anything, the past two years have given Barley plenty of experience on how to handle being the hunted in Saturday’s finals. He’s battled the nerves of doing it the first time as a sophomore and overthinking matters too much last year.

Quite frankly, Barley is simply ready to finish what he started.

“My sophomore year, I was a wreck before the finals,” Barley said. “I’ve just let it get in my head too much.”

Barley had no trouble delivering the fastest 200 free time Friday, turning in a time of 1 minute, 48.71 seconds. That was more than a second faster than Bonner Springs’ Ryan Downing, (1:49.79), who had entered the meet with the fastest entry time.

For good measure, Barley came back and posted the top qualifying time in the 100 freestyle in 48.82, edging El Dorado’s Keagan Wilson who was second in 49.01.

“I wasn’t expecting that one at all,” Barley said.

Barley’s performance headlined a monstrous day by Maize, which positioned itself for the program’s first state swimming championship. The Eagles claimed a total of 13 entries in Saturday’s championship finals with all three relays advancing, led by the 200 medley and 400 freestyle relays, each finishing runner-up to Wichita Heights in qualifying with Barley joined by Christian Taylor, Ryan Kuhl and Kyle Stutzman on the medley relay (1:40.89) and by Taylor, Brett Young and Harrison Shively on the 400 free relay (3:20.23).

Maize put three in the championship finals of the 200 individual medley (Young, Taylor and Shively) and two each in the finals of the 100 backstroke (Shively, Kuhl) and 100 breaststroke (Taylor, Young).

“It’s definitely our No. 1 goal,” Barley said of the team title. “We had guys step up that needed to step up. We had some great swims overall.”

Solid debut — Ben Patton has competed in plenty of big meets, but the Trinity Academy freshman still dealt with a case of the nerves in his first state meet. It hardly showed as he qualified first in the 100 backstroke and second in the 200 individual medley.

“My dad said it’s good to be nervous because it gives you adrenaline,” Patton said. “It makes you faster. I think it helped.”

Patton entered the state meet with the fastest entry time in both his individual events and had no trouble maintaining that position in the backstroke with his time of 52.65 seconds a full half-second faster than Heights’ Dawson Gantenbein (53.15). But in the 200 IM, St. James Academy’s Anderson Maginn posted the fastest qualifying time of 1:59.13, just .20 ahead of Patton’s 1:59.33 and well off Patton’s season best of 1:57.00.

Patton said he was hardly shocked to see Maginn step up to challenge him in the IM.

“It’s pretty close between me and Andy and the top five were within two seconds of each other, so it’s going to be close,” Patton said of a field where the third and fourth qualifiers were within a second of his time. “We’ve seen each other in club plenty and it’s back and forth. I’ll just do my best and hopefully that will be enough.”

Ready for repeat — Rose Hill’s Gavin Smith and Noah Baden each brought home a pair of individual golds from last year’s state meet with Smith taking titles in the 50 freestyle and 100 butterfly and Baden winning the 500 freestyle and 100 breaststroke. Both put themselves in solid position to repeat the sweeps Friday.

Smith had no trouble qualifying first in both of his events. His time of 21.23 in the 50 freestyle was more than a half-second ahead of the field — almost an eternity in the sprint event. The Rocket senior was even more dominant in the 100 butterfly, his time of 51.05 more than two and a half seconds ahead of Miege’s Max Hernandez-Nietling (53.71).

While Baden cruised to the top time in the 100 breast in 58.48, almost two seconds faster than Maize’s Taylor (1:00.46), he could have his hands full in defending the 500 freestyle title. Baden qualified second in 4:50.59, just .42 seconds behind Seaman’s Zeke Metz, and faces a field where the top four qualifiers were within five seconds.

Heights relays shine — Though Heights didn’t have any individuals earn top qualifying marks, the Falcons left no doubt their relays were the ones to beat, posting the fastest marks in all three.

Aidan Gantenbein, Creighton Sanders, Dawson Gantenbein and Joel Alderson began the meet with the top mark in the 200 medley relay, topping Maize by nearly two seconds in 1:38.99. Both Gantenbeins teamed with Ethan Conrady and Dylan Jensen to cap the day with a three-second win in the 400 freestyle relay (3:17.15).

In between, Conrady, Alderson, Jensen and Noah Childs posted the fastest mark in the 200 freestyle relay in 1:30.20. The Falcons also picked up seven individual qualifiers for the championship finals with both Gantenbeins getting two apiece, Dawson qualifying second in the 100 backstroke and third in the 100 butterfly.

Quah leads East — East sophomore Jack Quah not only was the top returning finisher from last year’s Class 6A 100 breaststroke, but also entered Friday’s prelims with the best entry time and the only swimmer to break one minute in the event. Instead of being the hunted going into Saturday’s finals, however, Quah will be trying to track the competition down.

Quah couldn’t quite hit his season-best time of 59.89, qualifying in 1:00.04. That was good enough for third as Washburn Rural’s Tarrin Fisher (59.10) and Blue Valley West’s Jordan Cowen (59.13) both dipped below a minute to claim the top-two spots.

East qualified its 200 medley and 400 freestyle relays for the championship finals and also got three individuals in addition to Quah. Wichita West qualified its 200 medley and 200 freestyle relays.