Hot battles heat up water
Title chases tight at Continental League meet
Athletes churned up the water of the Heritage High School pool to the roar of a capacity crowd at the Feb. 8 finals of the Continental League Girls Swimming Meet.
The league championship event served as the final opportunity to post times fast enough, and scores high enough, to earn a spot at the Class 5A State Swimming and Diving Meet Feb. 14 and 15 at the Veteran's Memorial Aquatics Center in Thornton.
The Feb. 8 activities wrapped up a two-day event. The swimming preliminaries and finals place take Feb. 7 and 8 at Heritage, while the competition for the league diving championship was held the morning of Feb. 8 at the Littleton High School pool, where more than 30 divers took their turn on the board.
After the final scores were tallied, McKensi Austin of Regis had won the diving title with 412 points, while Kaitlin Costello of Castle View was second with 403.55 points and Tori Ritter of Rock Canyon was third with 350.40 points.
Attention then switched to the swimming finals, where 177 swimmers competed in eight individual events and three relays.
In one of the closest races of the day, Annie Ochitwa of ThunderRidge won the 50-yard freestyle with a time of 24.24 seconds and Rock Canyon's Abigail Kochevar was second with a time of 24.25 seconds.
Another photo finish occurred in the 100-yard breaststroke as Mason Dahman of ThunderRidge posted a winning time of 1:09.30, touching up just before Paige West of Highlands Ranch came in at 1:09.50.
In a tight team race as well, Regis assured its overall win by posting a first-place finish in the final event of the day, the 400-yard freestyle relay. The Raiders won the league title with 503 points, while Rock Canyon was second with 457 points, Chaparral finished third with 449 points and Heritage was fourth with 386 points.
"We had some great swims that helped some of our girls be ready to swim fast at state," said Rock Canyon coach Tim Byers. "We had some girls swim fast in their best event. Also, I know the Heritage coach and I both have some girls swimming events that are not their best event. Personally, I did this to keep the girls competing and not to pressure them to go (too) fast at league and then go fast in the same event at state."
Chaparral's third-place finish was highlighted by the meet's only two-time individual champion, sophomore Kaylee Gassen, who won both the 100- and 200-meter freestyle events.
"Most of our girls performed as expected but we had a couple of surprises and, in those cases, they were good surprises," said Chaparral coach Steve Graves. "It gets the girls excited and it is a pressure situation to get them warmed up for state.
"We were positioned well as the meet wound down. ... Of course, we always want to be higher in the standings but we are happy where we are."
Heritage senior Mary Hinton smiled as she talked about her day in the water. Hinton, who swam in four events for the Eagles, finished second in the 200-yard freestyle and third in the 100-yard freestyle event. She also swam on the second-place Eagles 200-yard freestyle relay team and on the sixth-place 400-yard freestyle relay team.
"Swimming has been my sport since I was a 5-year-old and I simply love it," the senior said. "It has been a great experience swimming for Heritage for four years but it is a little sad today because this is the last time in my high school career I'll swim in this pool."
She said she is looking forward to state where she will swim her best events, the 200-freestyle and the 500-meter freestyle.
"You are in the water for quite a while in the 500 and I (have to) keep my mind clear and focus on swimming my best race," she said. "I listen to music before the race but, in the water, it is complete focus on the race. I do notice those around me but I focus on swimming my best and swimming my race."
Hinton's coach, Tom Byorick, was named the league's coach of the year.
Continental League champions
Diving: Mckensi Austin, Regis - 412
200-yard medley relay: Thunder Ridge: Annie Ochitwa, Mason Dahman, Patricka Van Law, Baylee Kniep - 1:50.49
200-yard freestyle: Kaylee Gassen, Chaparral: 1:54.47
200-yard individual medley: Lauren Moden, Legend: 2:10.78
50-yard freestyle: Annie Ochitwa, ThunderRidge: 24.24
100-yard butterfly: Katherine Harston, Heritage: 58.14
100-yard freestyle: Kaylee Gassen, Chaparral: 52.83
500-yard freestyle: Gabrielle Liedy, Highlands Ranch: 5:15.70
200-yard freestyle relay: Regis: Amy Lenderink, Taylor Wilson, Isabella Schulze, Lindsay Painton - 1:40.06
100-yard backstroke: Abigail Kochevar, Rock Canyon:56.51
100-yard breaststroke: Mason Dahman, ThunderRidge: 1:09.30
400-yard freestyle relay: Regis: Lindsay Painton, Amy Lenderink, Emily Protz, Samantha Smith - 3:37.65
Team scores: 1. Regis 505, 2. Rock Canyon 457, 3. Chaparral 449, 4. Heritage 386, 5. Mountain Vista 308, 6. ThunderRidge 268, 7. Legend 223, 8. Highlands Ranch 180, 9. Castle View-Douglas County 178, 10. Littleton 126, 11. Ponderosa 109