Varsity Kansas

Wichita West star wins state swim title; East finishes top 5 for sixth straight year

In what turned out to be a loaded Class 6A state high school swim field, Wichita’s brightest continued to shine.

Here are the results and a recap of the 6A action from Topeka at the 2019 girls state meet.

Maci magic: West star breaks through mold for state title

Maci McCullough has always been known as a distance swimmer but not anymore.

A Wichita West junior, McCullough finished second in the 6A 500-meter freestyle last year at 5:02.51 and the year before that, too, as a freshman. She finally captured that elusive title Saturday, and it didn’t come in the 500.

McCullough won the 6A 200-meter freestyle at 1:51.87. She swam the event last year and swam almost a full second slower. Had she in 2019, she would have lost to Wichita East freshman Ariana Dirkzwager, another distance swimmer.

McCullough held a strong lead through the first 100 and looked to breeze to the title, but Dirkzwager made several pushes in the back half that made it interesting. McCullough said she knew it was coming.

“I definitely had to pick it up on the third 50,” McCullough said. “She was right there, and I had to work for what I wanted.”

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Hayden Barber The Wichita Eagle

Wichita West has not won an individual state swim title in more than a decade. When she reached down to hug her mom and coach atop the podium, McCullough made Pioneer history.

Outside of McCullough, no West swimmer has even qualified for the state meet in more than a decade.

“Before races, I have to get myself hyped up or I can’t get going,” she said. “Because I’m a distance swimmer, it can take some time to get going, so I have to work a lot harder to get warmed up in these shorter races.”

McCullough broke the City League record in the 100-yard freestyle earlier this season and said it’s rewarding to know she is becoming a more well-rounded swimmer.

“Colleges really like that,” McCullough said. “A couple of colleges have been talking to me, so that means more money.”

Addressing the podium: East finishes third in team standings

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Hayden Barber The Wichita Eagle

Wichita East entered Saturday as the two-time defending Class 6A champion, but the Blue Aces couldn’t make it three.

The City League champions fell to champion Lawrence and runner-up Shawnee Mission East, but 2019 marked East’s sixth straight year finishing in the top five in 6A and its third in the top three.

Class 6A Team Scores

  1. Lawrence - 303
  2. Shawnee Mission East - 283
  3. Wichita East - 267
  4. Blue Valley West - 238
  5. Blue Valley Northwest - 118

Last year, the Aces breezed to the state championship, winning by 23 points, and they only lost two seniors (though key pieces in Julia Whitfield and Hannah Balch). They were the presumptive favorites, but the 6A field was deceptively fast in 2019.

“When I looked at the psych sheet, I knew it would take a lot of pieces to fall in just the right place,” East coach Joe Hutchinson said. “We had best times by just about everybody, so I can’t complain with how we swam.”

Although East did not become the first 6A team to win three straight team titles since Shawnee Mission East from 2012-14, it did boast an individual state champion for the fourth straight year.

Junior Astrid Dirkzwager won the 100-yard freestyle at 51.24 seconds and 100-yard backstroke to add to her illustrious career. Hutchinson said his star has battled with improvement throughout 2019, but she went from one title to two in 2019.

“When you’re really good, it’s hard to progress,” Hutchinson said. “The fact that she was able to go her best time in the 100 free yesterday and again today, I’m extremely happy with her performance and leadership.”

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Hayden Barber The Wichita Eagle

East also won relay titles in the 200-yard freestyle relay at 1:38.11, beating the field by more than two seconds. Last year, the Aces set the state record at 1:36.77, a mark that looks to stand for several years. But in 2019, Astrid Dirkzwager, senior Katerina Savvides, junior Eloise Lavacek and freshman Ariana Dirkzwager made their own history.

East rounded out the 2019 meet with another title in the 400-yard freestyle at 3:35.13. It marked the third straight year the Aces have won the final event. Ariana Dirkzwager, sophomore Baylor McPherson, senior Gillian Pierce-Butt and Astrid Dirkzwager brought it home again.

“I’m real proud of the team,” Hutchinson said. “It would have been nice to win three in a row, but from a coaching standpoint, today was very, very good.”

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Wichita Eagle preps reporter Hayden Barber brings the area updates on all high school sports while adding those hard-to-find human-interest stories on Wichita’s student-athletes.