Varsity Kansas

All-Metro Girls Swim: 7 state champions headline the Eagle’s second annual team

2019 All-Metro Girls Swimming and Diving Team: (Back row) Heights’ Brianna Reece, Kapaun’s Claire Conover, Kapaun’s Alexa Olson, Carroll’s Natalee Clark, Carroll’s Zoe Winter, Carroll’s Spencer Shellhammer, West’s Maci McCullough, East’s Baylor McPherson, East’s Katerina Savvides, East’s Astrid Dirkzwager; (Front row) Kapaun’s Sydney Le, Kapuan’s Liz Mitsch, Carroll’s Sydney Schmidt, Carroll’s Lexie Biby, Carroll’s Lexie Shelton, Andover’s Natalie Neugent, East’s Ariana Dirkzwager, East’s Gillian Pierce-Butt
2019 All-Metro Girls Swimming and Diving Team: (Back row) Heights’ Brianna Reece, Kapaun’s Claire Conover, Kapaun’s Alexa Olson, Carroll’s Natalee Clark, Carroll’s Zoe Winter, Carroll’s Spencer Shellhammer, West’s Maci McCullough, East’s Baylor McPherson, East’s Katerina Savvides, East’s Astrid Dirkzwager; (Front row) Kapaun’s Sydney Le, Kapuan’s Liz Mitsch, Carroll’s Sydney Schmidt, Carroll’s Lexie Biby, Carroll’s Lexie Shelton, Andover’s Natalie Neugent, East’s Ariana Dirkzwager, East’s Gillian Pierce-Butt The Wichita Eagle

200-Yard Medley Relay - Bishop Carroll

Zoe Winter, Fr.; Lexie Shelton, Jr.; Natalee Clark, So.; Lexie Biby, So.

With the third-quickest state time in Kansas in Kansas, the Bishop Carroll 200-yard medley relay team kicked off the Class 5-1A meet in emphatic fashion.

The Golden Eagles won the meet’s first event at 1:49.35, beating Blue Valley Southwest and City League rival Kapuan Mt. Carmel. No one leg blew the field away, but the combination of freshman Zoe Winter, junior Lexie Shelton and sophomores Natalee Clark and Lexie Biby eventually pulled away as it did at the City League meet.

“At first it was overwhelming, and as everything that’s a big accomplishment, it set in,” Clark said. “You graduate and you have those memories for the rest of your life.”

The event got Shelton started for a solid day at state. She eventually won the 100-yard breaststroke, which earned her All-Metro honors. And Winter was back in the pool two events later and won the 200-yard individual medley.

For Biby, the title is the start of what could be a promising career with the Golden Eagles.

“It was really cool because I had people coming up to me at my brother’s graduation and saying, ‘Congratulations,’ ” she said.

200-Yard Freestyle - Maci McCullough, Wichita West, Jr.

McCullough makes history every time she gets in the pool.

In 2019, she set the City League record in the 100-yard freestyle, and she followed it up with a state championship in the 200 free at 1:51.87. It was the fastest time of all state swimmers and the only time under 1:52. She also came runner-up in the 100 free at state at 52.37 behind only East junior Astrid Dirkzwager.

McCullough’s 200 free title was her first individual title and Wichita West’s first girls swim title in more than a decade. In fact, last year McCullough was the Pioneers’ first state swimmer in more 10 years.

She represents more than herself when she gets in the water, more than most other swimmers in Kansas. She said she takes that role seriously.

“We have a new (athletic director), and he’s really proud; he usually focuses on football, but he is so proud,” McCullough said. “A whole bunch of people are behind me, and it just makes me feel really proud.”

200-Yard Individual Medley - Zoe Winter, Bishop Carroll, Fr.

In an outstanding freshman class out of the Wichita area, Winter might be the best.

She won the Class 5-1A 100-yard butterfly, was part of the title-winning 200 medley and 400 free relays, won the 200 individual medley and helped bring Bishop Carroll its first girls swim title in school history.

Winter’s performance in the 200 IM was most impressive. A testament of a well-rounded swimmer, the Carroll freshman clocked in with the second best state time among all Kansas swimmers at 2:05.81. She was almost seven seconds ahead of Kapaun sophomore Claire Conover, who came runner-up.

Winter won three City League titles in her first go alongside the best swimmers in the Wichita area and set the GWAL record in the 200 IM. She beat that record at state by more than two tenths of a second.

“I was very, very nervous,” Winter said. “I knew if I messed up just a little bit, we might not have a chance at getting first at state.”

50-Yard Freestyle - Sydney Schmidt, Bishop Carroll, Sr.

Schmidt entered the 2019 season as perhaps the most powerful swimmer in Kansas, and she upheld that reputation.

For the 10th straight year, a 50-yard freestyle state title came back to the Wichita area as Schmidt won the 5-1A 50 free at 23.78 second. It was her second straight title in that event, bettering her time from last year by more than a half second.

Last year, Derby’s Megan Keil won the 6A title and took the All-Metro slot after setting the state record at 22.70. Schmidt didn’t hit that height, but her efforts have earned herself a scholarship to the University of Northern Iowa.

Schmidt also won the 100-yard freestyle, contributed to the 400-yard freestyle relay title and a runner-up finish in the 200-yard free relay. Her points were critical to the Golden Eagles’ first girls swim state championship.

“I’m ready for a new experience and to see how much faster I can get,” Schmidt said. “I’ve improved a lot over the past two years, and I’m just excited to see where college can take me.”

Diving - Brianna Reece, Wichita Heights, Sr.

Few athletes can leave their high school careers as four-time City League champions, but Reece can.

Reece capped her Wichita Heights career with 420.15 points at the 2019 City League meet and finished fourth in Class 5-1A at 379.95 points.

Last year, Reece finished 10th at state, and the year before, she came seventh. And as a freshman, Reece placed where she finished as a senior: fourth.

Reece’s career will go down as one of the best to come through the Wichita area and Heights.

“My freshman year was my favorite because that was my first time every winning,” she said. “I’ve gotten better every year, and winning it for the fourth time was unimaginable.”

100-Yard Butterfly - Katerina Savvides, Wichita East, Sr.

Savvides jumped on the scene as a freshman with a splash, and though she didn’t hit those heights since then, her senior year was marked with massive achievements.

Along with helping Wichita East to an 11th straight City League title, Savvides came runner-up in the Class 6A 100-yard butterfly. When she hit the wall and looked to the board, amazement came over her face. She finished at 58.32 ahead of the top qualifiers in the state. She came in with the No. 5 preliminary time.

Savvides also won the City League 100-yard backstroke title at 59.38. She helped East to a 200-yard free relay championship, came third in the 100 back at state and pushed the Aces to a top five finish in the 200 medley relay.

Savvides is continuing her career at Emory University.

“It’s a bit emotional knowing I’m going to leave this team because it’s such a special team, and they’re so supportive,” she said. “But I also know that there’s bigger things coming in the future, and I’m very excited for that.”

100-Yard Freestyle - Natalie Neugent, Andover, Fr.

In the two years the Eagle has released an All-Metro Girls Swimming and Diving team, there has been one selection from outside the City League.

Neugent is the first and only, and she is a freshman. She came runner-up in the 100-yard freestyle at 52.51 behind Carroll senior Sydney Schmidt. It was the No. 4 state time among all qualifying swimmers.

The City League has been known as one of the more dominant girls swim leagues in Kansas, particularly in the past couple of years with Wichita East, Bishop Carroll and Kapuan Mt. Carmel, but Andover showed its strength in 2019.

Neugent led the Trojans to a sixth-place team finish and AVCTL championship. She also came runner-up in the 50-yard free and helped Andover to a top five finish in the 200 free relay.

“I’m proud to represent Andover, and I’m really thankful for all my coaches and support from my teammates,” Neugent said.

500-Yard Freestyle - Ariana Dirkzwager, Wichita East, Fr.

There is another Dirkzwager in town.

Following her sister Astrid’s footsteps, Ariana made a name for herself in her first high school swim season. She earned a pair of individual finishes and helped East to two relay titles in 2019. Her All-Metro selection came in the 500-yard freestyle, finishing at 5:08.41, the No. 3 state time this year.

Ariana won the 500-yard free at the City League championship meet along with the 200-yard freestyle.

The East freshman is poised for an outstanding career with a pair of Ace seniors in All-Metro selections Katerina Savvides and Gillian Pierce-Butt set to move on next year.

“Being in middle school, I’ve always looked up to all these girls,” Ariana said. “I’ve gone to all their state meets, so it’s so exciting to know they’re happy and that they finished off on a good note.”

200-Yard Freestyle Relay - Kapaun Mt. Carmel

Alexa Olson, Jr.; Liz Mitsch, Sr.; Sydney Le, Fr.; Claire Conover, So.

Kapaun didn’t have an individual state champion as it did last year, but the Crusaders’ depth earned them a second straight runner-up finish at state.

“All of us were so exhaused,” senior Liz Mitsch said. “We really had nothing left to push. It’s as special as it’s been every year and maybe even more speical because it’s our last year with coach Chris Erickson.”

Their 200-yard free relay was emblematic of the Kapaun performance. The Crusaders came third at the City League meet at 1:46.44 and third again at state but shaved three seconds off their time at 1:42.72.

“We just connect so well,” freshman Sydney Le said. “Once I came in, I just bonded so well, and with Liz’s leadership, it just worked out so well.”

Sophomore Claire Conover’s runner-up finish in the 200-yard IM was the Crusaders’ only top two finish at the state meet. She said it doesn’t matter how they do individual though; they enjoyed one another’s company all season.

“We’re all super proud of each other,” she said. “We cheer each other on and pick each other up.”

Junior Alexa Olson got the 200-yard free relay started. She said this relay team has come a long way.

“We’ve stayed strong, and we’re like one big family,” she said. “It’s neat to see that our team is strong. We can do things that we want to do.”

100-Yard Backstroke - Astrid Dirkzwager, Wichita East, Jr.

After the 2019 state meet, East coach Joe Hutchinson said Dirkzwager struggled with her confidence throughout the season, seeing little improvement year-over-year.

Hutchinson said when you’re good, it’s hard to improve. Dirkzwager was still good enough in 2019 to bring home another 100-yard backstroke title at 56.24. She also won the 100-yard free at 51.24 and helped East to state titles in the 200- and 400-yard free relays.

Dirkzwager bounced back at state after a disappointing individual performance at the City League meet with a couple of runner-up finishes. She said her teammates have pushed her along the way.

“Every girl on the team has always been really special,” she said. “Our whole team has been special, and swimming with my sister has also made it really special.”

100-Yard Breaststoke - Lexie Shelton, Bishop Carroll, Jr.

Shelton didn’t hit her mark in his top event, the 500-yard freestyle, but she bounced back with three titles to round out her junior season.

She won the 200-yard medley relay and 400-yard free relay, but her top performance came in the 100-yard breaststroke, winning at 1:06.29, beating Aquinas’ Jesse Paxton by a couple of tenths.

Shelton won the 500 free last year but fell to Topeka West freshman Kadence Jeffries by more than three seconds. That finish motivated her to go forward and help Bishop Carroll to some school history.

“A lot of hard work went into it, but we did it, and we brought it back for the school,” Shelton said. “It’s exciting to be the first one ever.”

400-Yard Freestyle Relay - Wichita East

Ariana Dirkzwager, Fr.; Baylor McPherson, So.; Gillian Pierce-Butt, Sr.; Astrid Dirkzwager, Jr.

The team scores didn’t fall in Wichita East’s favor for a third straight year, but the Aces finished the state meet on top.

In the final event of the 6A meet, East won the 400-yard freestyle relay at 3:35.13, beating team champion Lawrence by almost 1.5 seconds.

“We’re all really close,” sophomore Baylor McPherson said. “We hang out outside of swim, so being able to accomplish this together is a really big deal.”

The Aces’ relay team had a representative from every grade. It started with freshman Ariana Dirkzwager. She said giving her all for the group’s senior, Gillian Pierce-Butt, motivated her.

Pierce-Butt’s season had its ups and downs. She started to come on at the City League meet with some strong legs in the Aces’ relays, and that carried over to state to finish her career.

“To be able to finish the meet with a win, that felt so good,” she said. “To be with those girls, it was incredible.”

All-Metro Coach of the Year - Spencer Shellhammer, Bishop Carroll

Shellhammer inherited a lot of talent in 2019, but he turned seven girls into a state championship team - Bishop Carroll’s first in program history.

The Golden Eagles held off City League rival Kapaun Mt. Carmel 291-284 and beat the two-time defending champion St. Thomas Aquinas by 60 points. They won seven of 12 events, and Shellhammer said he knew that’s what it would take.

Last year, Carroll came third in Class 5-1A despite bringing only a handful of girls to the state meet. This year, the Golden Eagles pushed through despite having only seven representing the green and gold.

”When the psych sheet comes out, we ran all the numbers, and we just kept it to ourselves and though, ‘Let’s see what we can do,’ ” Shellhammer said.