COLUMBIA — Senior Kate Huyser remembers being so close last year to achieving her dream of winning a medal at the state swimming tournament.
But she missed the final cut for the 200-yard freestyle by less than a quarter of second before finishing in ninth place, just one away from accomplishing her goal.
“I knew I had to go (into state this year) with the mindset of racing hard in prelims because everyone is fast at state,” Huyser said.
Her mindset paid off.
Huyser returned to not only take sixth in the 200 free, but she also took seventh in the 500-yard freestyle while breaking the school record in each event.
She added to her individual medals by earning second and third place in relays that helped lift the Eagles to fifth place — the best finish in team history — in Class 2 at the Missouri State High School Activities Association Girls Swimming Championships on Saturday, Feb. 22, in Columbia.
“We were excited,” Liberty North head coach Mark Warner said. “Just improving last year from seventh to fifth, we were pleased about that. I think we had more top-eight performances than we’ve ever had individually. … So overall, it was great to see so many strong performances from the team.”
The 200-yard freestyle relay team of Huyser, Bryn Mattes, Julia Blanchard and sophomore Ainsley Dillon took third place, but the team had actually finished first in the prelims.
“I think we were a little disappointed,” Dillon said. “Three of the girls on my relay team were seniors. This was their last one so I knew they wanted to make one of our relays count and I knew they were kind of upset.”
Dillon, who took fourth place in the 50-yard free and 100-yard free, said that slip from prelims to finals pushed them to compete even harder in the 400-yard freestyle relay, the last event of the state meet. The four Eagles were able to hold off a surging group from Kirkwood, but were ultimately unable to close the gap on Rock Bridge in that race and in the meet overall.
The Eagles finished with 144 team points, 15 back of Rock Bridge’s fourth-place trophy finish. Blanchard rounded out the team’s medal winners with an eighth-place finish in the 100-yard butterfly.
Liberty North was not fully satisfied with the lack of team hardware, but the Eagles also felt like the performance showed how far they had come as a team.
“I think we were all very pleased with how we performed,” Huyser said. “We knew going in that it was going to be really close for that fourth-place spot. So we’re really happy with our fifth-place finish.”
Now, Warner has a lot of seniors that he’ll need to replace, although the platoon is far from empty with swimmers like Dillon, whose resume includes a first-place medal in the 50-yard freestyle from her freshman year.
And apparently, she has some friends heading to the high school ranks that know their way around the water.
“I’m excited for my junior and senior year,” Dillon said. “There are some girls coming up that I know who are in middle school right now and on my club team that I’m excited to race with and swim against.”