The Smith-Cotton girls swimming team entered the season with four returning swimmers and a large group of newcomers.
At Monday’s West Central Conference meet, the Lady Tigers got the usual contributions from the veterans —Ali Burkholder won a pair of events, Abby Monsees won the 500-yard freestyle — but the swimmers who came into the season with no varsity experience were contributing as well.
One of the biggest races the younger swimmers had was the 200 freestyle relay. A team of four freshmen — Kaytlyn Muhr, Sarah Skrzypczak, Mariah Turner and Rachael Meyer — took third place.
“I was hoping that they’d go out and do their hardest,” Monsees said. “They’re all freshmen, just so that they’d give it their all and throw their entire hearts into the water and I saw that.”
After the first three swimmers put the Lady Tigers into third place, Meyer held off a strong challenge over the last 50 yards from Center, as Smith-Cotton finished ahead of the Lady Yellowjackets by .61 seconds. Meyer also took fifth in the butterfly and eighth in the 500.
“She didn’t do too bad,” said Smith-Cotton coach Jerry Tankersley. “Her times weren’t quite where I was hoping they would be. She did a good job in that relay and held on and pulled out third place.”
Tankersley looks not just for places but also for personal bests, and got three of those from Muhr on Monday. Muhr’s 3 minutes, 13.86 seconds in the individual medley was more than three seconds lower than her seed time. She was a second and a half faster than her seed time in the 100 freestyle, an event in which she was in the top heat. She followed that with a solid leg in the 200 free relay.
“She had a great day,” Tankersley said.
The Lady Tigers had plenty of other personal bests on Monday. In the 200 freestyle, Emily Edwards and Kaitlyn Puentes both lowered their times, Puentes by more than 16 seconds. Autumn Proffitt swam a 3:32.32 in the IM. Skrzypczak beat her time in the 50. Maddie Knight got a personal best of 1:43.85 in the 100 freestyle and nearly matched her personal best in the backstroke. Edwards and Turner each had personal bests in the 500.
The younger swimmers have come a long way from where they were when the season began.
“When it first started out in practice, they were really just learning how to do things,” Monsees said. “Toward the end, they were really just putting on the speed, putting on the muscle, and they look like experienced swimmers.
But Tankersley knows that in order to turn the youth into experience in future seasons, he needs to have those swimmers continue to stick with the sport and continue to improve.
“Every year, we get on the edge of getting it together and then it kind of falls apart,” Tankersley said. “I’m just really hoping. We’ve got a good group of young girls. I have eight really good freshmen. I’m going to lose two great seniors, and I’ll have one junior coming back and one sophomore coming back. If we can pick up another group of girls, next year we might be hopefully looking at a conference championship.”
If they stick with it, Monsees knows she won’t be there swimming next to them, but still hopes she gets a chance to see it.
“Even though I’m going to be graduating this year, I’m definitely going to come to the meets next year,” she said. “Hopefully, they’ll all come back so I can see how much they’ve improved.”