The Panthers were the runners-up at the 3A state swim meet in Gillette Thursday and Friday, their highest finish dating back to 1997.
With perennial champions Jackson the virtually assured champion, Powell head coach Luke Robertson said taking second “was like first place.”
“We knew second place was the absolute highest we were going to finish,” Robertson said. “We were extremely happy.”
Robertson said he tallied all of the hypothetical scores following Thursday’s preliminaries, and knew that it was going to be a tight race Friday, when three teams would be jockeying for position behind the Broncs.
“It was going to be Lander or Buffalo or us for second, third and fourth,” he said.
It proved to be a two-team race after Lander’s third-place 200-yard medley team was disqualified during Friday’s first event.
Robertson said no coach ever wants to see another team get disqualified, even in the competitive atmosphere of state.
The Buffalo Bison gained ground on Powell in diving, in which they placed first and fourth, and in the 50 and 100 free, both of which were won by Buffalo’s Hannah Chapin.
No Panthers finished in the top six of those three events. But Powell’s consistency and depth kept piling on the points in the 500 free, 100 back and 100 breast, which gave the team an inside track to second-place heading into the meet’s final event, the 400 free relay.
Robertson knew Powell’s lead was safe before the Panthers relay team even touched the water. The Bison finished at the bottom of the consolation heat, earning their last few points of the day, and guaranteeing the Panthers could not be surpassed.
The Panthers cut time in 21 of their 25 events, including all three relays.
“I set some pretty lofty goals (for the relay teams),” Robertson said. “And two of them hit them by quite a bit.”
Sophomore Amanda Tracy became the first state champion in Robertson’s five years as coach by winning the 200 free. Tracy also finished second in the 500 free with a time of 5:31.36, setting an all-time PHS record in the process just for good measure.
Robertson said he knew Tracy would be in contention for the 200 free crown but acknowledged “it wasn’t an easy event to win.”
“Amanda really brought it the second half of that race,” he said.
Tracy trailed Jackson’s Kiana Phelps by .93 seconds after the first 100 yards, but out swam the fellow sophomore by 1.64 seconds in the race’s final half. Tracy finished in 1:59.79, just .71 seconds ahead of Phelps, who would also take second in the 100 free.
Tracy’s performance earned her All-State honors from the Wyoming Coaches Association.
Junior SarahJean O’Neill earned Wyoming Swim Coaches Association All-State honors for her third-place finish in the 100 breast.
O’Neill’s time of 1:13.92 is the fifth-fastest a Panther has ever swum the breaststroke, and it nearly won her the race.
Only .76 seconds separated first and third place in the ultra-competitive final heat.
O’Neill put some separation between her and the rest of the pack with a strong final lap.
After the first lap, O’Neill found herself in fifth place, but swam the third-fastest second lap to pass swimmers of Jackson and Newcastle.
“The timing of your touch (on the touchpads) and your finish is everything,” Robertson said.
Senior Baxter Heinert got a pair of seventh-place finishes and climbed another rung on the PHS record board.
Heinert’s time of 1:05.50 in the fly was good for seventh-best at state (though it was the sixth-fastest time, because it was recorded in the consolation heat it was limited to seventh place) and is the fourth-best time in Powell Panther history.
Junior Stephanie Liggett took sixth in the 200 IM with a final heat time of 2:29.69 after being seeded fifth with a prelim time of 2:27.51.
“Stephanie put together just a phenomenal day in that IM,” Robertson said.
The coach mentioned that Liggett’s accomplishment is even more competitive considering the expanding field of swimmers.
“The IM was more competitive this year than it has been in a couple years,” he said.
Liggett would go on to place ninth in the 100 fly.
Junior Gretchen Moretti was one spot behind Liggett in the IM and took eighth in the 100 breast.
Robertson said Moretti benefited from her specially-designed end-of-the-year workouts, as evidenced by a five-second time cut in the IM.
“She’s a kid where the last couple years she’s just tapered really well,” he said.
Freshman Aly Schneider was sixth in the 200 free, which was the only event in which two Panthers finished in the top six. She was also the highest finishing of any Panther freshman.
Schneider finished ninth in the 100 free with a time of 59.27. She improved on her personal best in the 100 free each day of the meet.
Freshman Emily Doughty continued her strong late-season push and finished eighth in the 500 free.
“She cut a lot of time at conference in the 500 and cut even more time at state,” Robertson said. “The last two weeks of the season, roughly, she cut (approximately) 20 seconds.”
Doughty swam the 500 in 6:04.22 and was the second-fastest freshman in the event.
Robertson said the performances of the Panther freshmen highlights their potential and will serve as a base point when the team sets goals at the beginning of next season.
“That’s definitely a big motivator,” he said.
Diver Hannah Sweet enjoyed success at her final meet. The senior finished seventh in the diving competition, a marked improvement over last season’s 13th-place finish (172 points), with a score of 243.95. Sweet was just .1 second shy of finishing in the top six.
“That’s the best two days of diving she’s put together,” Robertson said. “She just had a great meet.”
Robertson said he was proud of Powell’s swimmers for giving their best when it mattered most.
“Even if you’re not making that second day, you’re still cutting time and hitting that best time of the year,” Robertson said.
Senior Lydia Allen continued to improve through the very end of the season by cutting three seconds off her 100-fly time during preliminaries.
Both freshman Katie Brown and senior Katelyn Lang shaved off time in the breaststroke.
Junior Natalie Quillen cut about three seconds in the 100 back and freshman Katie Doughty cut about a half-second in the 100 back.
“It was the best swim she’s had,” Robertson said.
Powell’s relay teams contributed major points to the second-place effort.
The Panthers finished third in the 200 medley relay, fifth in the 400 free relay and eighth in the 200 free relay.
Robertson, who finished his fifth year at the helm of the Panthers, was named the 3A Coach of the Year, as voted by his colleagues.