Everybody back in the pool, it’s time for another season.
Monday marks the first day of allowable practices for this year’s girls swimming campaign, so this is as good of a time as any to look at some notable stories that will play out over the several weeks of the season.
More than just repeats and underdogs, this season has a lot of intriguing subplots to play out. Most, if not all, of them won’t be finalized by the end of the first allowable meet on August 29. And there’s far more than those listed, which means keeping an eye fixed to this season.
Here’s just a few things to watch for this girls swimming season:
Plains to see favorite
Last year saw Laramie successfully defend its state championship, giving the historic program a 13th championship but just second since the 2001 title. Part of that was due to a strong senior class that anchored the Lady Plainsman’s almost stunning relay teams. Their departure will need to be accounted for and Laramie has the talent to do it.
In addition to powerhouse freestyle swimmer Olivia McPherson, the Lady Plainsmen return promising swimmers like Sage Morton, Anna Roesler, Katie McPherson and Madie Jablin. There will need to be some depth developed throughout the season if Laramie hopes to secure victory by almost 130 points like it did last season, but those four should have the defending champions jumping out in front as the favorites to repeat in Class 4A.
Split’s third chapter
By now the two-school split in Gillette should have played itself out, although it hasn’t been as even as some anticipated. Outside of the Camels’ 2017-18 boys basketball team, Thunder Basin has had the far more successful programs all around. Girls swimming, however, may be the exception to that point. The Camels scored 182 points with individual gold medalists at last year’s state meet while Thunder Basin finished with 112 points. Will this year be a duplicate?
There’s reason to believe the Camels may widen the gap. They beat Thunder Basin in every relay at last year’s state meet and their 400 freestyle team that finished second included two freshmen (Allison Granat and Berkely Christensen). Christensen also won gold in the 100 butterfly and 200 freestyle as the Camels’ only returning gold medalist. So she’s set the bar high. The Bolts, on the other hand, return Libby Poley and Alaysa Porter, both of who will have to elevate their game if the team wants to leapfrog its rival.
Every week last season was a landmark moment for Natrona County’s Gabriella Haigler. As a sophomore she constantly improved on her own school record in the 1-meter dive and eventually breezed to the state championship by breaking a 38-year old record with 411.25 points. Nobody came within 60 points of her.
So, understandably, the bar is set high for Haigler this season. There were no seniors in the top five of the diving section at last year’s state meet so she’ll constantly see a lot of the same competition this year that she did last year. And while the Fillies haven’t traditionally had a strong swimming and diving program (they finished 11th with 32 points last season), Haigler may have to kick it into another gear to defend her championship.
Can’t stop Lander
The gold standard in Class 3A has been and continues to be Lander. The Tigers breezed through the state meet last year with 279 points on their way to a third consecutive state championship. And while the Tigers graduated numerous state champions from last season, they simply reload with a swarm of returning talent.
Olivia Fowler, Lily Gose, Ashlon Koch and Makayla McPherson all return to make Lander the odds-on favorite to repeat. Almost inevitably there will be some young Tigers stepping into the spotlight and shining by the end of the season. That’s what makes that program traditionally so strong. But the gap between them and the field has narrowed since 2016, so the Tigers will have to stay driven if they hope to make it four in a row.
This marks the last season for Riverton standout Josie Dike. She’s already a three-time all-state selection, going for a historic fourth all-state season that would put her among the ranks of Wyoming’s best swimmers. Her times in the 100 butterfly would already put her in the 90th percentile of most college conferences, on average, and a final year with that growth has scary implications.
She’s set her own standard that she will inevitably be compared to while also swimming free of team burdens. The Wolverines scored 64 points at last year’s state meet, which put them in ninth. Rising sophomore Katie Fisher was the only other Wolverine to qualify outside of the prelims by finishing in the B finals of the 100 butterfly. That means all eyes will be on Dike’s senior season and her accomplishments alone.