“We Just Want to Swim.” The slogan adorned the EHS swim team’s warm-up gear and t-shirts, and was their motto all year. When they finally got their chance, the Cougars made the most of it. Swim they did, faster than any 3A team in Colorado when it mattered most. For the third consecutive season, Evergreen captured the 3A State Championship.
In a season unlike any other, the Cougars somehow managed to keep it together and peak at the right time. Everything fell into place on March 16 at the Veterans Memorial Aquatic Center (VMAC) in Thornton. Evergreen rallied in the day’s final three events to take first with 360 points, comfortably ahead of runner-up Aspen (273) and third-place Glenwood Springs (254).
“The girls struggled at times and weren’t even ranked until very late in the season,” said head coach Liz Hudd. “They swam well at League and were very strong at the State meet. Winning State a third straight time feels pretty cool and somewhat surreal.”
Almost nothing was typical about the season, outside of the final result. It didn’t start until January, about two months later than normal. The Cougars had to scramble to find pool time, at times utilizing facilities at Littleton and Platte Canyon High Schools. Instead of the usual 45 swimmers or so, this year’s squad had 27 members.
“The short season was definitely a challenge,” said senior Sheila Crane, who contributed mightily at State with fifth and seventh place finishes in individual events, as well as being a part of relay teams that placed second and fifth. “We had less time to prepare and get back into shape. We worked hard every opportunity we had, and pushed through to get best times.”
“The lack of team bonding was a huge challenge,” added senior Sophia Gurrieri, who earned valuable points in a pair of individual events and a relay. “We couldn’t have team dinners and the club team swimmers couldn’t swim at the EHS practices due to capacity restrictions. We had a lot to overcome.”
The State Championships were scheduled for Saturday, March 13. In keeping with the theme of the season, a snowstorm caused the meet to be pushed back to Tuesday, the 16th. Unlike years past, there were no preliminary races. But, as in recent seasons, the depth of the Cougars proved to be the key to success. Evergreen managed to take home a championship despite not placing first in any of the 12 events.
The 200-Yard Medley Relay team of Finley Anderson, Taylor Jacobson, Alyssa Cook and Sheila Crane got the Cougars out of the blocks strong with a second place finish to Aspen in the day’s first event. Jacobson, Aspen Fisher and Quinn Kelly all earned valuable points in the 200Y freestyle, and Cook, Gurrieri and Bell Sleeper did the same in the 200Y Individual Medley.
Crane finished seventh in the 50Y Freestyle. Anderson, a freshman who came up huge, took fourth in the 100Y Butterfly, while Jacobson (10th) and Gurrieri (11th) added to the EHS point total. Depth came through again in the 500Y Free, with Kileigh Ackerman, Fisher, and Erin Sweeney each placing in the top 15.
The 200Y Free Relay Team of Kari Hilquist, Gurrrieri, Kelly and Krane finished seventh in the ninth event to tighten the gap between EHS and Aspen. Strong performances in the 100Y Backstroke from Anderson (2nd), Ackerman (10th) and Kelly (15th) gave the Cougars their first lead heading into the final two events.
Evergreen all but cemented the victory in the 100Y Breaststroke. Cook took second place, Crane fifth and Sleeper 10th. The coronation and three-peat were completed when the 400Y Free Relay team of Anderson, Cook, Ackerman and Jacobson finished just .15 behind first-place D’Evelyn. A poolside celebration, now an annual tradition for Evergreen, ensued.
“Winning three consecutive State titles is a really good accomplishment because not a lot of teams get the privilege of winning three in a row,” said Jacobson, a junior. “I was really proud after the last event, knowing that we’d won again. Getting second in the last relay was great and I was glad we finished the meet strong. It was a really hard season and I’m so happy we finished it with a win.”
“I definitely did not imagine winning State three straight times would ever happen,” added Crane, who will continue her swimming career and education at Midland University in Nebraska in the fall. “It has been extremely exciting being part of this team because we all have the same goal in mind and continue to achieve it.”
Crane will study at the University of Kansas, and thought that State would be her last competitive meet. Now she is having second thoughts.
“I was not going to swim in college,” Crane said. “However, after I swam my last race at State, it was hard to think I would never swim-race again. Therefore, I may try to walk on at Kansas, but I’m still unsure.”
The Lobos of Conifer also had a strong showing at the VMAC with a 12th-place showing, an improvement of three spots from 2020. Rachel Ley contributed points in a pair of individual events and two relays, as did teammate Sage Swegle. McKayla Holmes and Paige Naku finished 12th and 16th in the 1-Meter Diving, while freshman Emillie Coleman captured fourth in the 100Y Breaststroke and 10th in the 500Y Free. Coleman, Ley, Swegle and Katie Rew placed ninth in the 400 Free Relay, while Coleman, Ley, Swegle and Jaiden Graham took 15th in the 200 Medley Relay. The 200 Free Relay team of Avery Parks, Graham, Evelyn Lucas and Rew placed 19th.
The Cougars accomplished something few teams ever have, winning their third straight championship since moving to 3A, and their fifth title since 2014.
“To achieve something like this is something very special that few people get to be a part of,” Jacobson reflected. “It is amazing that my teammates and I will always have that connection. I am so proud of this team. Our hard work has paid off.”
Indeed it has. Well done Cougars!