Megan Keil decided to run track this season for the first time since middle school, and she already has the fourth fastest time in the 800 meters.
She ran a time of 2 minutes, 24.01 seconds at the Shocker Pre-State Challenge April 13. Three days earlier, she was in the pool at Newton and won the 100-yard butterfly and the 500-yard freestyle, the only two events in which she competed.
Keil said she decided to run as a "why not" for her senior year, but there was a science behind it.
"They both lend to each other," Keil said. "The cardio for track really helps for swim."
Keil is the reigning Class 6A champion in the 50-yard freestyle after setting a state record and the 100-yard freestyle and will seek to add to her resume again this year. On the track, too.
"She's an incredible athlete, so we knew she was going to be good," Derby track coach Mitch Pontious said. "But nobody knew she was going to be this good."
Swim coach Bronwynne Queen has been at Derby for four years. She has watched Keil mature as a swimmer. She has been there through winning state to Keil's committing to Missouri.
Queen said she knows almost every coach says it, but nobody outworks Keil.
"There is a saying that hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard," she said. "But Megan is talented and works her butt off. That was definitely one of my first impressions.
"When she came in, she was good. But she was willing to put in the time to be better."
That has been Keil's biggest asset and was the biggest hesitation for Queen when Keil told her she was going to run track this season. Queen didn't want her headline swimmer to overwork herself.
Queen, Pontious and Keil devised a schedule before the season started. Only a few meets overlap, so that wasn't a major concern, but planning practices was.
Keil splits her time between the sports but leans toward swim practices. She has been drawn to the pool since she was 9 and has always been competitive.
But she is humble, too.
Pontious said he was talking recently with Brandon Clark, Derby's sprints and football coach. Clark has Keil in his homeroom class, but it took him weeks to piece together that Keil was the same girl breaking school swim records.
"She never wants to be in the spotlight," Pontious said. "She never acts like she's better than anyone else."
Keil said she wanted to thank her coaches for accommodating her schedule. She said some weeks are harder than others, with a couple of swim meets, a couple of track events, homework and a social life.
She said she doesn't regret it, though.
“It means a lot," Keil said. "It’s a lot of fun, and I think it was probably my best decision.”
Derby's girls track team did not qualify for the Class 6A meet last year, and the girls swim team finished 15th in 6A in 2017.
Both coaches said Keil's work ethic and accomplishments motivate those around her.
"Any time you have a swimmer or any athlete of that caliber, the other athletes will naturally want to reach them," Queen said. "Nobody wants to be the reason they don't make that cut or they don't make that time."
Keil said she her teammates are what make the track season most enjoyable, and said that although the Panthers often aren't competing at the top of the swim meets, she and her teammates still hunger to improve their times and finish as high as possible in the team standings.
“We’re still just as motivated and get just as excited," Keil said. "Any time we get a top time, we celebrate. It doesn't matter if we finish first, fifth or 20th."
And now, Keil has only a few more weeks in a Derby swimsuit or track uniform.
"She has earned every single thing that she has achieved," Pontious said. "I wish we had four more years with her. It sure has been a blessing."