Moffat County swimmers make splash at state finals
In spite of all the difficulties they’ve faced this winter, the Moffat County girls swim team earned one of the best finishes they’ve had in recent years.
MCHS swimming ended the season Saturday, Feb. 11, with their fastest times yet, multiple entries in the finals, and some hardware to prove their proficiency at the 3A CHSAA State Championships at Thornton’s Veteran’s Memorial Aquatic Center.
While Bulldog swimming regularly qualifies for state events, this year marked the first time in a decade that a member of the team cracked the top 10 of a race.
Zoe Anfang took sixth place in the 500-yard freestyle event, the first MoCo swimmer since 2013 to medal.
MCHS coach Melany Neton said that Anfang did even better in the Saturday finals than in the Friday, Feb. 10, preliminaries.
“To do it two days in a row and cut time the second day, she’s a very driven swimmer,” she said. “She’s mentally strong and physically, and it’s fun to watch her swim.”
While Anfang was a heartbeat away from the best time of the season she attained during the previous week’s league meet — in which she took silver — her time of 5 minutes, 32.17 seconds in the state finals kept her well in the mix.
The important thing was not to overthink it.
“I didn’t really have very many expectations heading into it, I just knew that I could swim fast,” Anfang said. “I feel like the energy for finals is a bit different.”
The lengthiest of all the races in CHSAA swimming is always grueling. With 20 laps, the 500 free is an excursion Anfang and teammate Evie Gruben have both improved upon each week as the only ones on the squad to attempt it.
Gruben finished 26th in Friday’s preliminaries, doing so with a personal best 6:07.29.
Swimming exclusively freestyle during state — two solo races and two relays — Gruben noted the 500 requires a different way of thinking while in the water.
“I think it takes more pacing than the 100 free, but I don’t find it more challenging,” she said. “In the 500 you think of it as one big thing, but in the 100 you think of it as four individual 25s.”
Faster than ever
Anfang also swam in the Saturday finals in the 200 individual medley, in which she placed 12th with an improved time of 2:20.62, her best yet.
The solo amalgamation of freestyle, butterfly, breaststroke, and backstroke is her favorite race even though it’s tricky for a swimmer not to compare themselves to whoever’s in the next lane.
“It’s much more of a mental game because people will get ahead in one stroke but then fall behind in the next,” she said. “You just have to be mentally tough and stay in the race even if you’re behind, wherever you are.”
MCHS also made its way into the finals in the 400 free relay, placing 17th in the prelims, during which the team cut nearly a full second off its best time.
However, neither number was quite good enough for the team.
Led off by Gruben, the relay of Anna Richman, Megan Neton, and Anfang as the anchor bumped up their ranking to 16th in the finals, trimming another three seconds to a new low of 4:07.86.
It’s only in the last month that swimmers started focusing on tackling the longer relay.
“It’s an endurance game, seeing how many 50s you can do consecutively instead of just the one,” said Megan Neton. “At the beginning of the season when you’re not as in shape, it’s harder to do, so you prefer the 200, but by the end of the season, I was happy with whatever relay was going to get us that far.”
Season of bonding
The 400 relay was the lone event MoCo qualified for in 2021 thanks to a reduced number of entrants during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Megan Neton, now a junior, was a state alternate that year as a freshman. Since the Bulldog swim team missed out on state entirely last season, getting to the big time this year is especially meaningful.
“I’m definitely a lot more satisfied. It feels like we’re getting more closure instead of cutting off right after regionals,” she said. “It’s really exciting just to go to a state meet and watch some really great swimmers but also feel that accomplishment to know that we are some of those great swimmers.”
The same foursome of girls in the 400 also took 27th in the 200 medley relay, while Richman, Megan Neton, Kate Lockwood and Mary Willems were 31st in the 200 free relay.
The relays always tend to be the most energetic wherever they go, said coach Melany Neton.
“They really meshed and came together and set goals and cheered each other,” she said. “They were dancing around when they were up there, just having a good time before their race.”
Richman said competing for a second day in the 400 helped their stronger performance.
“We had dropped a little bit of time but then came back with a better attitude and better energy and dropped even more,” she said.
In other solo events, Richman placed 30th in the 100 backstroke and Gruben 38th in the 100 free.
For Anfang, Gruben and Richman — all freshmen from Steamboat Springs — being part of the team has involved practicing separately from the rest of the team in Steamboat.
However, the trio is facing upcoming difficulties with their practice pool. Old Town Hot Springs is planning renovations later this year, which will disrupt their progress in the sport.
With the MCHS team having experienced a pool closure in the last several years and finding an alternative in the Meeker Recreation Center, coach Melany Neton is no stranger to these issues.
Though finding a solution is still in the works, she is hopeful that the Steamboat swimmers will be able to stay on course.
“Where there’s a will there’s a way,” she said.
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