TOPEKA - Meg Plank took one look at the psych sheet for the 200-yard freestyle at the Class 5-1A swimming championships and knew she had her work cut out for her.
Posting a best time of 2 minutes, 1.80 in the event during the regular season, the Andover senior was seeded just sixth in the event heading into Friday's preliminaries at Topeka's Capitol Federal Natatorium.
"I was like, 'Oh man, it's a tough field this year,'" said Plank, who finished third in the event at last year's state meet. "But I just stuck to my training and trusted what my coach Jared (Gaskill) was telling me. I did everything perfect and it worked out."
Things did indeed work out nicely for Plank in Friday's prelims as she cut nearly six seconds off her season best and posted the top qualifying time. Her mark of 1:56.08 was nearly two seconds faster than Miege's Catherine Grunhard (1:57.93) and makes Plank the person to beat in Saturday's finals.
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If that position feels familiar for Plank, it should. She was the top qualifier in the 200 freestyle last year before settling for third in the finals.
Though she was satisfied with her performance a year ago, Plank is hoping to change the ending this time around.
"I learned a ton from that," Plank said. "A lot of girls hold back in prelims so you have to be ready because they're coming for you in finals. I learned that the hard way. I still went a best time and (third) definitely wasn't a disappointment, but part of me was still, 'Man, I should have had it.' It's a motivator."
Plank could have held something back during her prelim race, saving her break out for the finals. But not only could she not risk failing to make finals against a strong field, the Trojan said it simply isn't her style.
"If I have a swim, I'm going to go out there and do my best," said Plank, who also qualified third in the 100 butterfly and helped the Trojans' 200 medley and 400 freestyle relays qualify third. "I always leave it all in the pool."
Andover Central's Brooke Dreiling certainly did hold anything back in her 500 freestyle race, earning the top qualifying mark with a time of 5:08.36. Though the time is still well off her career best in the 5:02s, it was a huge 11-second drop from her best this season.
"I usually get a break over spring break, but this year I went to Junior Nationals," Dreiling said. "I didn't have any time off and I was on a longer taper. My body takes a little to get up to speed and I had a month and a half of really hard training. I rested four days before this, so that helped me drop time.
"Last night, I just told myself I was going to go for it and if I died, I died. I was confident I was going to push myself."
No other swimmer came closer than eight seconds to Dreiling's qualifying time, but that doesn't mean she's going to rest easy.
"I will definitely come ready," she said. "I know I'll have even more energy tomorrow because it's state finals."
Dreiling also qualified second in the 200 individual medley, but her time of 2:11.44 was more than four seconds behind top qualifier Cailey Grunhard of Miege (2:07.30).
Trinity Academy's Kendall Kilgore was the only other city swimmer to earn a No. 1 seed for Saturday's finals, posting the top time in the 100 freestyle in 53.28. Though she was third in the event last year with a similar time, Kilgore was a bit stunned by the time this year.
Battling tendinitis in both shoulders all season, she had set her expectations for this year's state meet low.
"I've been going through a lot of hard times with my injury," Kilgore said. "I'm just happy to be here and I'm able to swim through the pain. I'm super happy about that swim. I was really shocked to see that time on the board."
Trinity teammate Taylor Kostboth had a stellar day as well, qualifying second in both the 50 freestyle and 100 breaststroke. Her 50 time of 24.22 was just .02 seconds behind Aquinas' Holly Hanson (24.20) and her breast time of 1:09.79 was a second slower than Blue Valley Southwest's Maddie Carrigan (1:08.67).
Maize South's Mia Gibson qualified second in the 100 backstroke in 59.16, more than a second behind Topeka West's Laura Dicus (57.87). The defending champion in the 100 freestyle, she qualified third behind Kilgore and Aquinas' Hanson.
Defending state champions Katelyn Blattner and Maggie Hatfield of Wichita Heights did indeed compete at the state meet despite injuries, but weren't up to their championship form. Blattner, who won the 200 freestyle last year, qualified fourth in the event and fifth in the 100 freestyle, while Hatfield, the 50 reigning 50 free champ, was sixth in the event and didn't make finals in the 100 free.