Spencer Krueger only had one shot to leave his mark on the state swimming scene.
And if ever that one-shot opportunity had a defining moment, it came when Krueger was standing on the blocks awaiting his anchor leg in the 400-yard freestyle relay — the final race of Saturday’s Class 5-1A state meet in Topeka.
“I had all this weight on my shoulders,” Krueger said. “I just wanted to go out and give these guys all I had.”
Safe to say, the Andover Central senior did just that. Entering the pool with the Jaguars in fourth place, Krueger delivered an anchor leg the folks in Andover will talk about for a while. He picked off anchor after anchor on his way to bringing Central all the way back for the victory, out-touching Wichita Heights anchor Aidan Gantenbein for the state title by two-tenths of a second.
The relay title capped a triple crown day for Krueger, who swept titles in the 100 and 200 frreestyles in his first and only state meet.
“Diving in, I didn’t know if I could catch them,” said Krueger, who helped the Jaguars to a season-best time of 3:17.74. “I wasn’t really thinking about it. I was just trying to swim as fast as possbile.
“It felt great and it’s just awesome to see all the hard work pay off.”
If Krueger’s finish in the relay was fantastic, his victory in the 100 freestyle was mind-boggling. The fastest qualifier in Friday’s prelims, Krueger went into the final 25 yards of the race with work to do as Miege’s Lex Hernandez-Nietling bolted to the early lead and looked poised to pull the upset.
But just like the relay afterwards, Krueger was not to be denied. He charged hard off the final turn and just clipped Hernandez-Nietling at the finish winning by .06 seconds in 46.96.
“I started off and the dive was pretty rough and I was playing catch-up the whole time,” he said. “It scared me. I didn’t think it was that close at the touch, but hats off to Lex because it was a great race.”
Krueger began his golden showing with a win a ho-hum win by the day’s standards, beating Seaan’s Zeke Metz for the 200 free title by less than a second in 1:41.97.
Heights wins 5A crown — Not everything fell into place for Heights on Saturday. The Falcons won one event — the 200 medley relay to start the day — and didn’t quite hit on all cylinders.
But when the Falcons were hoisting the state championship trophy at the end, it mattered little. After a heartbreaking runner-up finish to Maize by one-half point a year ago, Heights got the title it coveted, scoring 242 points to top Maize and St. James Academy by 61.
“It wasn’t necessarily pretty, but we did what we had to do,” said Heights senior Dylan Jensen, who was upset in the 50 freestyle final. “We finished it and it’s a great feeling. It’s just so sweet to come back and last year was our whole motivation this year. And we did it.”
Jensen was the favorite after qualifying first in the 50 free but saw St. James’ Nick Callahan make a hard charge in lane six for the win, nipping him by .06 seconds in 21.75.
Jensen earlier had teamed with Aidan Gantenbein, Noah Thompson and Carson Hager to win the 200 medley relay in 1:38.41. The Falcons also finished second in the 200 and 400 freestyle relays with Jensen, Hager, Thompson and Ethan Conrady making up the 200 and Conrady, Kamron Hall, Thompson and Gantenbein swimming the 400, which lost by .20 seconds to Andover Central.
Victory, agony for Patton — A mere .41 seconds kept Ben Patton’s day from being just a pretty good one to everything he could have hoped for.
The Trinity Academy sophomore fell short of defending both of the state titles he captured as a freshman, taking second in the 200 individual medley while capturing his second straight 100 backstroke title.
He might have been just fine with both results had he just gone a little faster.
In winning the 100 backstroke for the second straight year, Patton came agonizingly close to taking down a decade-old record in the event, set by Newton’s David Winter in 2006. But when he touched the wall and looked at the board it showed his winning time of 50.29 was just .01 shy of Winter’s mark.
“I know I’ll think about that a lot,” said Patton, who finished nearly three seconds clear of the field. “It was disappointing to say the least.”
The disappointment in the 200 IM didn’t come in defeat. Patton knew Leavenworth’s Brayden Love was going to be tough to beat and though Patton gave it a great run, he fell just short.
Instead, it was his time with his 1:50.26 not quite what he wanted and not quite Love’s 1:49.88.
“If it had been four-tenths faster, I’d been a lot happier,” he said. “It was a really fun race though and it was fun to have the competition.”
Baden falls short — As a five-time state champion, Rose Hill’s Noah Baden in no way expected his prep swimming career to end the way it did.
But in no way did Baden expect Saturday’s state meet to be as fast as it turned out to be.
The two-time defending champion in the 500 freestyle and three-time winner of the 100 breaststroke, Baden fell short in his bid to defend either. The Rocket senior was nipped by Topeka Seaman’s Zeke Metz in the final 25 yards for the 500 title and then saw Bonner Springs’ Ryan Downing break a 16-year-old state meet record in the 100 breaststroke to win by two seconds.
“This year had so much more competition,” said Baden, who was runner-up in both. “I knew it was going to be the hardest year by far.”
Baden had a personal-best 4:42.49 in the 500, but saw Metz overtake him on the final leg to win in 4:41.40. Downing broke the record of 56.59 set by Trinity Academy’s Michael Bruce in 2000, giong 56.28 to Baden’s 58.32.
Southeast’s Lebeda takes second — When Alec Lebeda looked at the results in the 500-yard freestyle from Friday’s preliminary swims in the Class 6A meet, something immediately caught his eye.
It wasn’t necessarily his own position or time as the top qualifier in the event, but rather those of Blue Valley West’s Jonah Park, someone he fully expected to be among his main challengers.
“When he went 4:47 yesterday, I knew something was up,” the Southeast sophomore said. “I figured he was saving something up for today.”
Lebeda was dead-on in that assessment. Swimming two lanes over and a bit out of feel range for Lebeda, Park had plenty in the tank and Lebeda couldn’t quite match it. Despite making a hard charge late, Lebeda wasn’t able to overtake Park for the title, finishing second.
While Lebeda’s time of 4 minutes, 42.44 seconds was just off his prelim time of 4:42.25, Park won in 4:39.78 — a drop of more than seven seconds from Friday.
“I knew for sure he was going to be out there,” Lebeda said.
It was hard to fault Lebeda if his focus going into the race was mostly on Shawnee Mission East’s Aidan Holbrook, whom he had dueled and barely nipped during his prelim heat on Friday. Side-by-side again in Saturday’s final, Holbrook held the early lead in their duel before Lebeda overtook him midway through the race.
By that time, Park had already made his move. Lebeda finally caught a glimpse of the Jaguar sophomore who was two lanes over, and though he tried to close the gap, he never gained enough ground to make it a fight to the finish.
“I thought, ‘This guy’s sneaky. He’s killing it,’” Lebeda said. “I tried to follow him, but by that time I was already pretty pooped.”
Despite the runner-up showing, Lebeda was still pleased with his performance, which also included a 10th in the 200 freestyle.
“I matched my time from yesterday pretty much and I’m happy with that,” he said. “My main goal was to beat Aidan and I was happy to do that at least. I’ve still got two more years of high school and it should be fun.”
East finishes fourth — For much of Saturday, East was in a fight with Free State for third place in the team standings and a state trophy. And though the Blue Aces were edged for third by 16 points, coach Joe Hutchinson was hardly disappointed.
“This is what I wanted to get accomplished here,” Hutchinson said. “At the beginning of the season, I was hoping to get top five and we moved up a spot from that. We were sniffing third for a while, but Free State was tough today.”
East was led by junior Hugh McPherson, who posted a pair top-four finishes in his individual swims and also helped two relays to third-place showings to earn first-team All-State honors. McPherson placed third in the 200 individual medley in 1:57.92, four seconds behind champion Evan Yoder of Free State (1:53.31) and added a fourth in the 100 breaststroke in 1:00.14.
He also teamed with Sam Hutchinson, Jack Quah and Matthew Randle for a third in the 200 medley relay (1:38.65) and with Colin Hutton, Earl Hwang and Jason Ooten for a third in the 200 free relay (1:29.94).
“Hugh really set the table for next year and announced his presence at this meet for the first time,” Hutchinson said. “He’s done well in the past, but this meet he was impressive on the relays and individually.”
Randle added a pair of medals, taking sixth in the 200 individual medley (2:01.84) and seventh in the 100 backstroke (55.47), while Quah was sixth in the 100 breast (1:00.65), Hutchinson was sixth in the 100 back (54.40), Hwang was eighth in the 200 IM (2:04.18) and the 400 free relay team of Randle, Hutton, Hutchinson and Ooten was fourth (3:19.50).