Moffat County swimming starts conference championships with 2 state qualifications
With Mother Nature bringing plentiful snowfall to the Western Slope, the Moffat County High School girls swim team barely noticed any wet stuff outside with their focus on the water indoors.
MCHS girls qualified for the 3A State Championships in two more races during the preliminary round of the Southwest Conference Championships at Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction.
With steady improvement week after week, the 200-yard medley relay team beat the two minutes, 10 seconds needed for state with a prelim time of 2:08.87.
At five seconds speedier than a week earlier, all four legs of the race saw smaller numbers in their specialties compared to Fruita Monument’s Wildcat Invite.
Ellina Jones led off in the backstroke, one second quicker at 33.55, while Kelsey McDiffett followed at more than two seconds faster than a week earlier at 34.34 in the breaststroke as a qualifying time was already in sight.
Anna Cooper was next in the butterfly, taking three-tenths of a second off her previous time, down to 32.98.
Cooper said though she’s been swimming the specific stroke for many years, her recent efforts have been even better.
“I swam butterfly when I was little, and now that I’m getting older, it’s just really starting to all come together, which is really nice. I’m getting my form like I’m supposed to,” she said.
Coach Melany Neton said after putting Cooper in the medley lineup early in the season, she could tell she’s been hitting her stride in recent weeks.
“We were trying to work out her kick with that fly. She’s such a strong girl, she’s using her arms a lot,” Neton said.
In the final leg of the race, Alexa Neton did her duty as the group’s anchor, clocking in at 28 seconds flat in the freestyle stroke.
“We’ve tried quite a few different arrangements in that one. They all really came together and worked,” coach Neton said.
The ninth-place result sends the group to the Saturday finals where they can lessen the time even more
“It’s really been impressive to watch the whole team grow,” Cooper said.
With the medley starting the day and the 200 free solo race immediately afterward, Alexa Neton was more than warmed up for her biggest event of the day, the 500 free.
With five laps in both directions ahead of her in the long-distance race, Alexa began with a 32.79 in her opening split, but it was the rest of the event that saw her at her best.
After specializing in the 500 last season, she didn’t even swim it this year until midway through the schedule, and with several of the later splits in the Wildcat Invite surpassing 40 seconds, she knew where she needed to improve.
“You just have to pick a pace and not tire yourself out too quickly,” she said. “It was my third race, but I just found that right pace.”
By the end of the race, not only had she avoided any 40s — her highest time a 38.68 starting the final lap — but she finished with her best time of the season at 6:11.36, which was 23.9 seconds faster than any time this year.
For that matter, it was the best result of her high school career, beating out her lowest of the 2018-19 season — 6:17.95 — and earned her a spot at state, passing the 6:15 standard.
A 10th place finish for Alexa in the 500 was also the same placement in the 200 free, in which she cut 5.3 seconds for a time of 2:17.04, just barely one second from state’s 2:16.
After competing in the 200 at last year’s state event, she’ll be chasing the 2:15.32 she hit in the 2019 conference event that got her there.
Cuts here, cuts there
The final race of the prelims saw Lady Bulldogs agonizingly close to a third state time for the day.
After a knee injury took her out of the pool last week, Jeni Kincher joined Jones, Alexa Neton and McDiffett in the 400 free relay, with the MoCo crew placing 10th at a season-best of 4:16.06, more than six seconds faster than their old mark and extremely close to the 4:16 needed for state.
As part of the same foursome that qualified for state in the 200 free relay in January, Kincher anchored the 200 free with Cooper, Allison Jacobson and Sarah Johnson, trimming 24 seconds from the B relay’s previous best, placing 15th to go into the finals at 2:08.18.
Injury or no, Kincher also set a new season best for the team in the 50 free, placing 17th at 28.66, as well as renewing her competition with Jones for the top of the results in the 100 free, each cutting exactly 1.51 seconds from their best during prelims.
Kincher placed 21st at 1:05.54, while Jones was 17th at 1:03.99 to get closer to state’s 1:01.5.
However, Jones said her best solo race was undoubtedly the 100 backstroke, trimming three seconds for a 1:11.82, placing 12th to move into finals where she hopes to beat the state time of 1:10.
“I’ve been trying to work on speeding up my finishes and turns so that I can get that as tight and quick as I can,” she said.
Jones said she initially thought of backstroke as intimidating but has since found it to be one of her better events.
“I used to be afraid of it, but now that I’ve done it more, I really like it,” she said. “Our whole team is really better, dropping time and really improving.”
As the first swimmer to gain state qualification this season, McDiffett kept lowering her times all the more Friday in the 200 individual medley and 100 breaststroke. With her best times in each race since her freshman year, the MCHS junior was 11th in the IM (2:33.04) and 12th in breast (1:19.16).
All told, every Bulldog saw their best results in at least one event during the preliminary round.
The quartet of Tiana Nichols, Alexei Reyes, Cristiann Reyes and Eliana Mack cut nearly seven seconds from their entry time in the 200 free relay for 2:35.58 to place 21st. The same group also took 19th in the 400 event.
Cristiann also edged out her best in the 50 free by .15 seconds, while sister Alexei was 1.1 seconds faster in the 100 free.
In the 100 free, Johnson was .47 seconds faster, Mackenzie Anderson took 2.42 seconds off her best in the 200 free, and Jacobson deducted 3.72 seconds from her best in the 100 breast and nearly five seconds quicker in the 200 IM.
The Friday prelims’ morning start time — compared to afternoons in recent years — led most teams, including Moffat County, to travel to Grand Junction Thursday amid plentiful snowfall throughout the day.
“We had a great bus driver who got us there safe,” coach Neton said.
Besides braving the roads the night before, Neton said the recent preparation for the conference event has pushed swimmers to be at their best for what could be their final week.
“We’ve been tapering this week and working on speed,” she said. “They were really ready to go.”
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