Mix of youth, veterans powers Jags in pool


Talk about a Rock-solid foundation.

The Rock Canyon girls swimming program is on the rise, thanks in good measure to the emergence of a pair of freshmen who, coupled with a pair of upperclassmen, led the Jaguars to third place - just two points behind Regis Jesuit -- in last weekend’s Continental League championships at Heritage.

Madeline Lacy and Abigail Kochever one-upped last year’s freshman wonder, Annie Ochitwa of Thunder Ridge, who had a first and a third in the league meet before going on to capture silver medals at the Class 5A state meet in the 50 and 100 freestyles.

Lacy took two firsts - the 200-yard individual medley in 2:12.34 and broke a 16-year-old pool record of 57.85 in the 100 butterfly - and Kochevar won the 100 (52.36) and was second in the 50 to Ochitwa.

“They’re very impressive young ladies both in and out of the water,’’ Jaguars coach Nicole Vanderpoel said of her first-year wonders. “We knew they were talented; however, we have really healthy respect for the competition.’’

Lacy edged Regis freshman Lindsay Painton in the butterfly (58.11) and senior teammate Nicole Cassou in the IM, who swam 2:12.58. Cassou, who finished 15th in the 100 breaststroke at state last year, also took fifth in the 100 butterfly.

Lacy, who will do both races at state, said her win in the IM was “very unexpected,’’ adding that Cassou “did a really good race.’’ Lacy said she was surprised by the result of the butterfly, and noted, “It was a really good group of girls out there.’’

Kochevar will swim the two shortest freestyle races at state.  “I’m getting better; I just want to see what I can do (at state),’’ she said. “I was kind of surprised by how I did today because I’m not tapering. The energy made me go faster.’’

In all, six Jaguars notched top-six placements in the league meet. Junior Victoria Vanderpoel, the coach’s daughter, was third in the 500 freestyle (she took 15th at state last year) and fourth in the 200 freestyle. Sophomores Nicole Jordan and Tori Ritter were fifth in the breaststroke and diving, respectively.

Rock Canyon will send eight swimmers and four divers to state, with six of the swimmers qualifying for two individual events.

Ochitwa fared a little better at this year’s league meet even though she didn’t swim the 100. Instead, she took second in the backstroke to Chaparral’s Makenna Wilson. A year ago, Ochitwa finished third in the 100, a race won by Regis’ Missy Franklin, who did not compete this time but will swim at state. The Olympic multi-gold medalist won the 200 freestyle and the backstroke at state in 2012.

Ochitwa will swim the 50 and 100 freestyles at state and will be looking to avenge losses to Rhianna Williams of Fossil Ridge. Heading into last week’s meets, Ochitwa had the state’s second-best times in both distances, behind Franklin

“I’ve been thinking about it since last year,’’ Ochitwa said.

Ochitwa said she was satisfied with her time in the 50 - “I was happy to be under 24, but it’s not my best’’ - and swam the backstroke for a change of pace.

Heritage finished a distant fourth to Rock Canyon but got a strong performance from junior Mary Hinton, who won the 200 freestyle and just missed the pool record with a time of 1:55.42. She might have set it if she’d been pushed, but runner-up Morgan Stepp of Castle View was almost four seconds behind.

“The record is what I was shooting for this week,’’ Hinton said of her last meet in her home pool.

Hinton will swim the 200 and 500 at state; she was ninth in the latter and did not place in the former a year ago. “The longer, the better for me,’’ she said. “I’ve gotten a lot better in the 200 this year. I focused on it, so I’ve improved a lot.’’

Mountain Vista had four placers in the meet, led by Ashley Peterson, who was second in diving by .9 point to defending champion Cat Badillo, and sophomore Brianna Salanitro (third in the 200 freestyle, sixth in the backstroke), who was 13th in the breast and 15th in the IM at state last year.

Gabrielle Liedy of Highlands Ranch placed second in the 500 and sixth in the 50.

Megan Grier and Makenna Wilson couldn’t stay away from the Chaparral girls swimming team for their senior season, and their return is paying big dividends.

Each one captured a gold medal and a top-three finish as the Wolverines won their first Continental League team championship Saturday at Heritage.

It didn’t matter to Chaparral that an asterisk might be attached, as perennial state power Regis Jesuit didn’t bring its entire squad -- including multi-Olympic gold medalist Missy Franklin, who is scheduled to compete in this weekend’s Class 5A state meet in Fort Collins - and most of those who were there didn’t compete in their primary events.

Chaparral capped its climb to the top by winning the day’s final three events: Wilson the 100-yard backstroke (57.90), Grier the 100 breaststroke (1:08.50) and the 400 freestyle relay (Grier and Wilson as members) with a league- and pool-record 3:35.44. Six other Wolverines had top-six finishes as Chaparral edged Regis (no individual champions but winner of two relays) 493-467.

“I’m so excited and I think we completely deserve it,’’ said Wilson, who also was second in the 100 freestyle. “The girls worked so hard. It’s an honor to be on the team with them.’’

Wilson and Grier took last season off to swim with the DU Hilltoppers club team, and were rewarded them with Division I scholarships: Wilson to LSU and Grier to West Point. Wilson made the 2010 state finals in the backstroke and 200 individual medley; Grier was ineligible as a sophomore under state transfer rules after switching from Regis and will be making her first state-meet appearance.

Wilson will compete in the backstroke and either the 100 or IM at state, while Grier will go in the 50 and 100 freestyles.

“I definitely missed the team aspect; it’s been so much fun,’’ said Grier, who also took third in the 50 freestyle. “It’s the first-ever banner we’ll have for swimming.’’

The first league is “a big deal,’’ said Chaparral coach Brooke Westall. “We have no pool (the team trains evenings at Grandview’s pool), and several years ago we were lucky to be top six in the league. This is such a great thing. These girls worked their butts off. It’s been just kind of a magical year for them.’’

The Wolverines trailed by some 50 points halfway through the finals before Wilson and Grier led the charge down the stretch. “I knew we had a good chance, but we had to have a much stronger back half,’’ Westall said.

Chaparral has qualified 10 girls for state, six more than last year’s previous high, and it’s a blend of experience (three seniors, including Annie Graves, who was 11th in the backstroke at state) and youth (a freshman class that included three finalists at the league meet, and two sophomores who combined for three top-six places).

Legend and Castle View had their moments as well. The Titans finished fifth behind Heritage (324-287), but produced a pair of champions, Allison Arnold in the 500 freestyle and diver Cat Badillo, both defending their titles.

Arnold, a junior who was second in the 500 at last year’s state meet, won by more than 10 seconds with a time of 5:12.73. She also took second in the IM but is expected to double with the butterfly at state (she was ninth in the 200 freestyle last year).

Arnold’s odds of winning the 500 are vastly improved now that Cherry Creek’s Bonnie Brandon - last year’s other dominant swimmer -- has moved on. Brandon beat Arnold by just under 15 seconds last year. “I probably won’t beat her state record (4:43.52), but it would be nice to get first,’’ Arnold said. “But there are a lot of good 500ers out there.’’

Badillo, who finished second to two-time state champion Michal Bower of Loveland at state last year, edged Mountain Vista’s Ashley Peterson by .9 point in the league final at Littleton. It was the first 11-dive competition and just the third meet of the season for Badillo.

She took off four months from training and diving for therapy on a sore hip and lower back that she said had been bothering her for a year, returning about a month ago.

“I haven`t been able to do full practices, so I’m very happy with my score,’’ Badillo said.

“I’m happy I finished all of my dives. My expectations for state are to do my dives to the best of my ability.’’


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