Other Varsity Sports

Kapaun seeking first state swim title with depth, togetherness

Kapaun senior swimmer Katherine Baldessari is leading the Crusaders in the pool this season. The Crusaders are having one of the best seasons in school history.
Kapaun senior swimmer Katherine Baldessari is leading the Crusaders in the pool this season. The Crusaders are having one of the best seasons in school history. The Wichita Eagle

Before Kapaun's 4x400 freestyle relay team got in the pool, the Crusaders looked at the scoreboard.

"We were behind the block and said, 'We got this. We can do it,' " junior Annabelle Brown said with a laugh of disbelief.

They hadn't won an event all day April 7 at the Northwest Invitational but led by 11 points. Still, to win and hold off East, the defending Class 6A champion, they would need to place toward the top.

Each of the first three swimmers kept Kapaun in the race for freshman Claire Conover.

"We have all these girls cheering for you," Conover said. "When you're doing that flip-turn and you hear them, you're like, 'OK, I can do this.' "

Conover beat Carroll and East to the wall, clinching Kapaun's first-place finish at the invitational. The Crusaders finished with 381 points, beating East by 15.

Invitationals aren't state championships, but Kapaun has shown flashes that maybe 2018 is the year for the school's first swim title. Almost all the girls swim for a club team, but they unanimously said there is something different about swimming for their school, especially this year.

"It makes you feel more connected to your school," sophomore Alexa Olson said. "You're actually doing something to help and put your name on something."

Kapaun is finding success through its depth.

At the Northwest Invite, the Crusaders had multiple swimmers earn team points in nine of the 12 events. Their top finisher in each event placed no worse than sixth.

That isn't to say they don't have home run talent. Conover, a freshman, has put together an outstanding first year in the City League pools. She has won or been a part of seven winning events this season.

Then there is the senior leadership of Katherine Baldessari. She has served as an anchor in and out of the pool.

Coach Chris Erickson said the beauty is that the Crusaders attack in so many other spots. Olson, Brown, freshman Lily Valentas and seniors Amanda and Hannah Le have all chipped in throughout the season.

"Our depth isn't just with our seniors," Erickson said. "We've got quickness at every class and a phenomenal freshman class."

Kapaun finished second in the City League to East last year and seventh at the Class 5-1A meet behind the likes of Carroll, Maize and Trinity Academy. The Crusaders finished no higher than fifth in any full-field final.

Senior Hannah Le said the difference is the togetherness.

"The last time I was on a team that bonded this well was my freshman year at Andover," Le said. "And we won the league that year.

"I definitely see that again this year."

Baldessari said she has been swimming with some of her teammates for several years. She sees them as sisters, and that has made the journey even sweeter.

Nobody expected to win the Northwest Invitational. They even laughed about it Wednesday when asked about it.

They said they were hoping for a top-five finish, but most important, they just wanted to have fun that day.

"It doesn't really matter if you get first, second or last, as long as you do better on your times, that's the most important thing," Valentas said.

But since experiencing the success they have, the Crusaders have changed their expectations. After beating a state champion, the school's first swim title is not out of reach.

Baldessari said she has talked with the other seniors about it, and everyone seems to be on the same page.

"It's not 'I need to go faster,' " Baldessari said. "It's 'We need to go faster.' "