When the first heat of the 200-meter medley relay finished at the Class 4A state swim meet, bystanders were in disbelief at what the team with the Bulldog swim caps had just done.
"That swim opened a lot of eyes," coach Ed Stehlin said about his Moffat County High School medley team. "We came in with the slowest time at the meet and then we were about a third of a pool length ahead when we finished."
The medley team entered the meet with a time of 2 minutes 5.85 seconds and finished the preliminaries with a time of 2:00.23.
"I expected us to be a sleeper since we were almost a completely different team than we had during the season," Stehlin said. "It's not often that the slowest team coming in, makes it into the finals."
Stehlin's expectations about his team were backed up by several factors. Senior Danyel Harman and sophomore Katie Gainor had just swum faster than they had all season or in Stehlin's words "came uncorked" at the Western Slope Championships the week before. Harman had swum a seasonal best by more than two seconds in the 50 freestyle and Gainor, who had been swimming tenths-of-a-second slower than teammate Sari Maneotis in the butterfly all season, earned her trip to state by improving her previous best in the 100 butterfly by several seconds and finishing eighth at the WSC.
Senior Katie Stewart didn't have too bad of a WSC meet either with a state-qualifying time and fourth-place finish in the backstroke.
The most considerable difference for the team was the return of backstoker, junior Heather Whiting. Although it wasn't her smoothest swim, Whiting was happy to be back in the pool after taking a couple of weeks off from competition to rest her surgically repaired shoulder.
"It didn't feel like I had much rhythm," she said. "But it was nice to be back at state and I swam a personal best."
Whiting said it put a fun to hear people talking about the relay team after the preliminary round.
"People would come up and ask who our breaststroker was," she said. "I didn't say anything, but I just thought, 'that was me.'"
The Bulldog team swam its way into the consolation final, which is for the ninth through 16th fastest times in the prelims. With its effort the team broke the school record.
The record was news to Whiting but not to the others.
"I didn't know we broke any records," she said. "But that makes it even better."
Harman said Stehlin had talked to them several times about getting their names on the record board.
"He told us at practice that he thought we could do it," she said. "We were pretty confident if each of us swam a bit better we'd break it."
The next day in the finals the Bulldog team, actually made up of a Steamboat Sailor (Whiting), two Meeker Cowgirls (Harman, Stewart) and a Bulldog (Gainor) because Moffat County is the only high school swim program in Northwest Colorado, moved up again from the last seed in the heat to fifth out of eight. The time was better than the prelims with a 2:00.12.
Overall the team finished in 13th place.
"They broke a six-year record," Stehlin said. "So that was a good end to the season for us."
The Bulldogs qualified all three relay teams for state. The 200 freestyle relay team of Stewart, Harman, senior Cara Conci and freshman Vanessa Murray swam at its season best of 1:51.7 and the 400 freestyle team of Murray, Stewart, Conci and junior Sari Maneotis swam its best time of the year, 4:07.7.
Each team improved on its seeding that it had before the meet.
Diver Amanda Vaughn also improved on her effort from last year's state. She missed the top 20 by 11 points.
"Amanda dove much better than last year," Stehlin said. "But the competition was stiff this year and she couldn't crack the top 20."
David Pressgrove can be reached at 824-7031 or email@example.com