Happy Birthday, coach
Depth lifts Fruita swimmers to District 51 crown on coach's big day
Grand Junction kept winning races, but Fruita Monument kept racking up high places as the Wildcats girls swimming and diving team gave their coach a nice birthday gift Wednesday: the team title at the District 51 Championships.
Fruita coach Jessica Haley turned 30 Wednesday, and when she learned her team had edged Grand Junction by two points, 598-596, for the team championship, she said, “What a great present. That wasn’t expected.”
The obvious difference was depth as the Wildcats claimed more finishes in the top six than Grand Junction and Central/Palisade. Haley added her team targeted this meet as one it wanted to win, and she thought the girls responded well because it was senior night for all three District 51 teams. Fruita has 10 seniors, which Haley said is a lot, and they were honored during a break in the middle of the meet.
“We swam for our team today, and I think that’s what made the difference,” she said. “Saying goodbye to our seniors, I think that spiked the back half of our meet. ... We had so many great swims. They swam phenomenal.”
Kathryn McConnell claimed one of the Wildcats’ three event wins, taking the 100-yard backstroke. She also was second in the 200 freestyle and swam a leg on Fruita’s winning 200 medley relay.
“Kathryn’s amazing,” Haley said. “She’s a sophomore, and you’re going to see a lot out of her.”
Haley also lauded the performances of senior Kailey Shabelski and junior Michaela Hoffman.
Shabelski dropped five seconds off her second-place time in the 200 individual medley and three seconds off her third-place time in the 100 butterfly.
“To drop that much time, that’s swimming with heart,” Haley said.
Hoffman placed third in the 100 backstroke and swam legs on the A team in all three relays for Fruita. Haley said Hoffman, a multisport athlete, is having a breakout season in the pool.
The Wildcats’ third event win came from Morgan Hoffman in the 1-meter diving, where she competed despite being ill.
Haley said her team has been battling illness, but not to the extent Grand Junction has. Tigers coach Janet Ryan confirmed that, but she said she had only six swimmers out of commission Wednesday compared with 10 a week ago.
Grand Junction was healthy enough to win nine of the meet’s 12 events, led by two individual wins apiece from Taylor Kidd (200 free, 100 butterfly), Marina Silva (50 free, 100 free) and Avery Pope (200 individual medley, 100 breaststroke). The Tigers also got victories in the 500 free from Emily Pitcher, the 200 free relay and the 400 free relay.
Grand Junction’s 200 free relay finally broke the state-qualifying mark of 1 minute, 48 seconds, as Silva, Taylor Kochevar, Trinity Simmons and Kidd combined to clock a 1:47.98.
“It’s really exciting,” Kidd said of the 200 free relay’s time. “We’ve just been so close every meet to getting it. To finally make it today feels so amazing.”
The Tigers knocked 8.03 seconds off their previous best this season in the 400 free relay and came within 35-hundredths of a second of meeting the state-qualifying mark of 3:59. That was despite Silva feeling ill, but she did her job in the leadoff spot there and in the 200 free relay.
“Marina’s been sick, you can see it in her face,” Kidd said. “She’s just so tired. So, for her to do it today, that was amazing.”
Ryan said all of her swimmers were dropping time off their previous bests this season, and she’s looking forward to everyone getting healthy for the Southwestern League Championships in a week-and-a-half.
“We haven’t tapered,” she said. “Once we taper, I’m real excited to see what we do next weekend.”
Central/Palisade’s best finishes Wednesday came from Carolina Latek, who was second in the 50 free and third in the 100 free.