Moffat County swimmers hold nothing back physically, emotionally at state as team future remains uncertain
Moffat County High School boys swimming at 4A CHSAA State ChampionshipsSwimmer(s) — Time; Place Special Olympics 50-yard freestyle Derek Powers — 1:07.19; 5 50-yard freestyle Jacob Briggs — 23.69; 28 100-yard backstroke Cody Evaristo — 1:00.74; 27 100-yard breaststroke Brooks Birkinbine — 1:11.40; 40 100-yard freestyle Jacob Briggs — 52.96; 29 500-yard freestyle Brooks Birkinbine — 5:21.16; 30 200-yard freestyle relay Devin McIntosh/Ethan Powers/John Cutler/Nathan Cooper — 1:48.46; 27 200-yard medley relay Cody Evaristo/Brooks Birkinbine/Jacob Briggs/David Prescott — 1:51.88; 21 400-yard freestyle relay Jacob Briggs/Brandon Beason/David Prescott/Brooks Birkinbine — 3:49.86; 26
COLORADO SPRINGS — There was no point pretending it was the chlorine.
As Moffat County High School athletes climbed out of the waters of the US Air Force Academy swimming pool, tears streaked their cheeks and they had difficulty catching their breath to speak. Bodily weariness may have been a part of that reaction, but none of the Bulldogs denied it was the impending end of a beloved aquatics program that was the true cause.
The 4A CHSAA State Championships was a time for energetic competition complete with some of the best MCHS performances of the season as swimmers kept the inevitable conclusion out of their minds.
The Colorado Springs college natatorium was one that few Moffat County kids had seen previously and continued to marvel at, complete with multi-level diving platforms, diving pool, practice pool, hot tub and competition pool at the hub of everything.
“The Air Academy is just gigantic,” Derek Powers repeated more than once, motioning to the dimensions of the facility.
Derek was part of a 50-yard freestyle Saturday race through Special Olympics, placing fifth at a time of 1:07.19, while the rest of the MCHS team headed into the preliminary round Friday in eight separate races.
The day began with the 200 medley relay, as Cody Evaristo, Brooks Birkinbine, Jacob Briggs and David Prescott chopped a full second from their seed time, hitting 1:51.88 for the season best and their best placement of the meet at 21st, albeit short of the 16 groups and two alternates to head to finals.
Briggs was back in the pool shortly for the 50 free, placing 28th and bringing his time in the single-lap race to an all-time best of 23.69. He was back on the starting block shortly after in the 100 free, again trimming off a substantial amount, 29th with a 52.96.
As Briggs took a breather, Birkinbine leapt in for the longest race of the day, the 500 free, placing 30th and knocking more than three seconds off his record for 5:21.16.
“I just went out there and gave it my all,” he said. “It’s definitely more challenging at the beginning, but then you realize, ‘I’ve done this a thousand times before,’ and you know what to do and you’ve just gotta do it.”
The 200 free relay team of Devin McIntosh, Ethan Powers, John Cutler and Nathan Cooper was up next, placing 27th at a time of 1:48.46.
Though Cooper helped set each of the three relays’ qualifying times throughout the past few weeks, he didn’t mind competing in only one of them at state.
“I think that sufficed for me,” he said. “It was really more about having fun today.”
Evaristo, who swam the backstroke portion of the medley, had another go in reverse for the 100 back race, bringing his best time to 1:00.74, also placing 27th.
Though Evaristo has improved incrementally in solo races, he appreciates even more the journey as a group.
“Our whole point of pride has been the team, working together and pushing each other to get better,” he said.
Birkinbine’s go in the 100 breaststroke followed with a 1:11.40 for 40th — he chose the race over the 100 and 200 free, which he also qualified for, but was limited by rule to two individual state races — leading to the 400 free relay to conclude the day.
Briggs kicked off the group race for the Bulldogs even though he expected to be fourth in line.
“I was thinking I’d be the anchor, but we definitely got moved around a bit since Brooks just did the breaststroke, and he was feeling pretty gassed,” Briggs said.
Birkinbine swam the final leg, preceded by Brandon Beason and Prescott, the foursome ranking 26th at 3:49.86.
“That 400 was definitely tougher since it was the last one, it was longer, and we were all really hoping to make it to finals,” Prescott said.
With no more races yet to come, the entire team’s mood changed as the moment they’d been dreading for nearly three months had finally arrived.
The February announcement by Moffat County School District that the MCHS pool would be shut down at the end of the school year was a decision that was devastating for the girls swim team — who learned the fateful news just days before their own state meet — but even with time to prepare, Bulldog boys still were hit hard by the end of an era.
In fact, it may have been tougher carrying the details for the full season, said coaches Meghan Francone and Melany Neton.
“You could see they were physically upset in the water, but they still wanted to represent Moffat County,” said Francone, who could no longer keep up her stoicism by the end of the day. “They hit some of their best times today, did well and they never gave up.”
The spring 2018 season was the first for some MCHS swimmers, including seniors Ethan Powers and Beason.
After competing at the state level in wrestling during the winter, Ethan was glad to have another shot at the upper echelon.
“I think I’m a lot more used to that pressure after wrestling,” he said.
Beason likewise enjoyed the challenge of a new sport after previous springs in track and field and baseball and fall in cross country.
“I feel pretty honored to get to swim for them for the last time even if it was my first time,” he said. “The cross-training helped, being a runner, but I don’t think there’s nothing harder than swimming.”
Returning seniors McIntosh and Cutler also were sorry to see their final year in MoCo swimming be the last season for the foreseeable future.
“Before our relay we were really trying to pump each other up and have fun,” said McIntosh, who also kept up his teammates’ spirits with mischievous pranks involving a marker, his signature, some bare skin and a little too much down time.
For Birkinbine, who joins the Craig team from Steamboat Springs, the change will be no less impactful, even as he anticipates competing strictly for Steamboat’s club team.
“These guys are like family to me,” he said.
With four years in the program and three trips to state, the prospect of no more swimming at his soon-to-be alma mater is nothing short of devastating for Briggs.
“These past four years I’ve gotten to know some of the most phenomenal swimmers and coaches I’ve known in my life. I wouldn’t trade that for anything,” he said. “Knowing I’m not going to have practice for two hours after school is going to take a little getting used to.”
And, though his final meet as a Bulldog would have been intense either way, it was a test of mental toughness he knew he’d have to face.
“When I first got into swimming in high school, I wasn’t sure about it, but after everything we’ve been through and knowing this’ll be the last Moffat County team for a while, it was emotional to come down here and represent Northwest Colorado,” Briggs said. “Everyone came out here and performed with heart. A lot of teams come here and want to do whatever it takes to win, but we put heart first so that we could go home and look in the mirror and say we did our best today.”