Sophomore Baxter Heinert began the qualifying streak in Thursday’s dual, cutting nearly a second from her time in the 50-yard freestyle to take first place in the event and scoring her first qualifying time ever as a Lady Panther. Three events later, she qualified again, cutting more than two seconds from her seed time in the 100 freestyle.
Natalie Quillen also took advantage of the Worland meet to win a qualifying time. Competing in the backstroke for the first time as a Lady Panther, the freshman swimmer finished first and beat the qualifying time by nearly one second to become the team’s sixth qualifier.
Freshman SarahJean O’Neill waited until Saturday’s Gene Dozah Invitational to pick up her qualifying time, and she did by taking almost three seconds off her previous best time in the breaststroke.
Junior Courtenay Zorgati swam to fifth place in the 100 freestyle, but missed a qualifying time by .09 seconds, but Lady Panther swim coach Luke Robertson reminded her she had a second chance at the mark as the lead-off swimmer in the 400-yard freestyle relay. Zorgati stepped it up a notch and swam her leg .36 seconds faster to earn the right to swim the event at state.
As a team, the Lady Panthers dominated the Worland dual. The Lady Warriors’ trio of Carolyn and Kristen Kennedy and Haley Krump accounted for four first places in the meet, but the Lady Panthers won all the rest, including all three relays. Belen Quillen won the 100, Sarah Wurzel the 500 and Hannah Sweet the diving competition to join Heinert and Natalie Quillen as winners.
Zorgati posted second place finishes in the 50 and breaststroke and Anya Tracy was second in the individual medley and the backstroke. Belen Quillen was the runnerup in the 200 and Lydia Allen finished second in the butterfly.
Third-place finishers included Devin Rausch in two events, Ashley Dillon, Heinert, Amy Danforth, Katelyn Lang and Racheal Bright, while Wurzel, Ali Briggs, Hannah Cordes and Bianca Larsen finished fourth. Rounding out the team scoring with fifth-place finishes were O’Neill, Natalie Quillen, Tellese Whitaker, Bright, and Celine Hall.
On Saturday, six other teams joined the Lady Panthers in the Dozah meet, and as expected, Jackson won the competition by a big margin with Lander finishing a comfortable second. Buffalo finished third and Cody edged Powell for fourth place by two points. Riverton and Worland rounded out the field in sixth and seventh place respectively. The Lady Panthers were swimming without double state qualifier Gretchen Moretti, who was ill.
Heinert had the top finish for the Lady Panthers, finishing second in the 50 by just .01 seconds, and she added a sixth place finish in the 100. Belen Quillen finished third in the 200 and fifth in the 500, and Anya Tracy earned sixth in both the butterfly and the backstroke. Zorgati was fifth in the 100 free and her opening leg in the 400 relay helped the team of Rausch, Wurzel and Belen Quillen to a third-place finish.
Wurzel, O’Neill, Tracy and Heinert finished seventh in the medley relay, and Heinert and Tracy were joined by Zorgati and Belen Quillen to finish eighth in the 200 relay. Also scoring eighth-place points were Zorgati in the 200 and O’Neill in the breaststroke. Wurzel finished 11th in the backstroke and 11th in the 100, and divers Sonya Monanez and Dillon finished 10th and 11th. Rausch and Lang rounded out the scoring with 12th-place finishes.
Robertson was pleased with his team’s performance, particularly Zorgati’s second effort to qualify in the 100 on Saturday and Heinert’s Friday time cut in the 50.
“Cutting a second in a short race is huge,” he said.
Qualifying times by freshmen O’Neill and Natalie Quillen improved times by other swimmers last weekend show the Lady Panthers are making progress, Robertson said, and it’s progress, not tournament placing right now that concerns him. He noted that Wurzel missed qualifying in the backstroke Saturday by .03 seconds and other swimmers are inching closer to qualifying times as well.
“It was a good weekend for us,” Robertson said. “We already have as many qualifiers as last year, and several more are going to make it.”
This week, the Lady Panthers will swim in a triangular meet in Cody, and then travel to Jackson for another invitational. The Jackson meet is a schedule change, as the team was originally scheduled to swim in Riverton.
Swimming in Cody begins at 5 p.m. Friday and at 10 a.m. Saturday in Jackson.