Confession time for Katerina Savvides.
Typically, when she’s swimming the 200-yard individual medley, she “goes easy on the backstroke.”
By her own admission, “that’s not the best strategy” given the stroke is her specialty, one in which the East freshman entered the Class 6A state swimming championships as the top seed.
In Saturday’s championship finals at Topeka’s Capitol Federal Natatorium, Savvides held nothing back on her specialty leg of the IM. Doing so helped her to a state title.
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Savvides built a three-second lead after the backstroke leg of the race and held on at the end to beat hard-charging Hailey Brull of Shawnee Mission Northwest by .69 seconds.
“It was totally unexpected, which made the title even better,” said Savvides, who finished in 2 minutes, 7.23 seconds. “I was not expecting that time. I thought I would be close, but I expected to get second place, so it was a surprise I won it.”
Expectations were for Savvides to perhaps capture the 100 backstroke title, entering the state meet with the fastest time in the event. She qualified second behind Shawnee Mission East’s Sarah Allegri in Friday’s prelims, though, and couldn’t quite track down the Lancer senior in Saturday’s finals, finishing second .58 seconds behind in 56.23.
“I was really happy for her because she earned it,” she said of Allegri, who came within .02 seconds of the state-meet record with her win in 55.65. “I would have liked to have won, but I’m happy with it because it was a time improvement.”
But having already won the individual medley, Savvides was hardly disappointed with the runner-up finish. She was still riding a high from her title.
Savvides actually led from start to finish and appeared to be on her way to a dominating victory after making the halfway turn following the backstroke leg with a three-plus second lead on Brull.
But Savvides also was fully aware the final freestyle leg was her weakest and Brull would make up ground on the third leg in her specialty, the butterfly — an event Brull won later in the day. So even though her lead was considerable, she knew the race was far from over and sure enough, Brull charged hard, closing the gap to just more than a second by the end of the butterfly leg.
“I definitely saw her and I was thinking the whole time, ‘I have to win this,’ ” Savvides said. “I knew I was ahead but I had to keep pushing. I was definitely worried.”
The time was Savvides’ best by two seconds overall and four seconds in high school competition.
Savvides’ title helped East to a fourth-place finish in the team standings for the second straight year. She also teamed with Aiden Chan, Janis Hwang and Madison Allen for third in the 200 medley relay in 1:49.47 — just .26 seconds behind champion SM East and .01 behind Free State for second — and with Allen, Julia Whitfield and Hannah Balch for fourth in the 400 freestyle relay in 3:42.11.
Allen and Chan each fell short in their bids to join Savvides as a state champion.
A state champion in the 100 breaststroke in 2014, Chan finished runner-up in the event for the second straight year. Despite cutting a full second off her prelim time, Chan couldn’t quite track down Topeka High’s Elena Almoguera, finishing second in 1:07.62 to Almoguera’s winning time of 1:06.06.
Allen, meanwhile, had qualified just .05 seconds behind Shawnee Mission North’s Joely Merriman in the 100 freestyle. But in Saturday’s finals she couldn’t duplicate her prelim time and Merriman made a big cut to win in 52.32, while Allen slipped to fourth in 53.83 behind Allegri (53.06) and Free State’s Sydney Sirimongkhon-Dyck (53.19).
Allen also was runner-up in the 50 freestyle, almost a second behind Sirimongkhon-Dyck, who defended her title from last year. The Firebird won in 23.65 with Allen second in 24.60.
Savvides and Allen were first-team All-State selections, while Chan, who won the 200 individual medley consolation final, was a second-teamer.