It’s the last splash before Lansing and Leavenworth high school girls’ swimming moves from their current confines to the embryonic United Kansas Conference (UKC) beginning in the fall of 2018.
For now, Lansing is set to make one last run through the Kaw Valley League, while the Pioneers will make it a final go in Sunflower League action.
The two programs have high expectations this spring and hope to continue to move forward in building their reputations.
The Lions return some key elements from a squad that went unbeaten at home – including a win over Leavenworth – finished 22nd at the state finals and saw head coach David Bresser named KSHSAA Coach of the Year.
To top it off, they earned a National Scholar Team recognition with a 3.76 GPA.
So what next?
“It’s another year with some good depth,” Bresser said. “We have our largest team yet and will add diving to the program this year. We have a lot of freshmen out and I am excited to see what they can do in racing situations. We also have a full schedule which gives all our swimmers multiple opportunities to swim and gives the coaches the chance to see some versatility.
“We’d like to repeat as KVL champions especially when the meet is at our pool and this is the last year for the league. The girls want to reinforce our team fundamentals of sportsmanship, leadership and scholarship, and maintain the team GPA to qualify for the recognition as an Academic All-American Scholar Team again. We’d like to improve our team finish from last year at state, including having three relays at the second day of state.”
Bresser, who is a strong voice for seeing the sport advance in the area, has some very important pieces back, including Trinity Hall, Maddie Walker, Darby Mance and Maggie Bell.
“Trinity returns with the fire and motivation to improve her seventh-place finish in the 100 backstroke. She is versatile and can swim any event and could get a state time in almost every event,” Bresser said. “Maddie is a multi-state qualifier. She is healthy and back to 100 percent after two years of significant injuries including a shoulder and wrist surgery. Maddie is one of the keys to all our relays. Darby is hoping to get more individual state qualifying times this year but she will be another of our relay members. Maggie is a two-time state team member and got her first consideration times last year. Her goal is get that elusive automatic state time.”
The senior class includes Walker and Bell along with Leah Wiegers, Hailey Sundblom and Liz Paxton, while some key sophomores may add some depth to the Lions’ attack including Lizzie Martin and Samantha Moburg.
“We are doing well and half of our team is new swimmers and they are making great improvements so far in the two practices we’ve had,” Wiegers said. “(The girls with experience) are gaining more strength and endurance in their first high school season. We have some girls who have never swam before and they are learning the strokes and basics of swimming and we are all improving as a team.
“The older girls are being great mentors with the younger girls. I think the seniors are pretty positive for their last season and are positive about being role models for them. Our new freshmen are awesome and are really valuable.”
The newcomers include a large incoming group of freshmen with prior experience including Ryley Bullock, who has impressed, and Carley Jacobson. Sophomore Alix Lawler is new to the program and Kristen Dennis could end up being the Lions’ first diver in program history.
That all helps with the loss of seven seniors who offered varsity experience and contributed points, including top swimmer Summer Dietz, a four-time state medalist.
“With a large group of freshmen and sophomores we need to gain that meet racing experience,” Bresser said. “We’ve added some meets to the schedule this year to allow those younger swimmers the opportunities to gain that valuable meet familiarity in multiple events. With the large group of graduating seniors last year, we have some big holes to fill in the 500. Our top returners are seniors Liz Paxton and Hailey Sundblom, and I’m looking for some underclassmen to step up to fill those mid-distance spots. Summer was a great relay swimmer so I’m looking for the motivated swimmers to fill out the relays.”
It all adds up to a final go-round as members of the KVL and with plenty left to achieve.
“Last week we made a list of season goals for the team and one of them was winning the last Kaw Valley meet,” Wiegers said. “We are hoping to get this last title and are excited about the coming years and going against new competition.”
Kaley Wittrock moves to season two as the LVHS head coach and will have some top veterans to help push the girls through the final season in the Sunflower. They finished 12th last season, thanks in large part to some strong performances by now-junior Elizabeth Bert and the 400 freestyle, 500 medley and freestyle relays.
Key Pioneer returnees also includes seniors Abby Waugh and Landa Owens along with junior Hope Hanlen.
“These girls were key members in the Pioneers’ relays last year as well as the team’s top finishers in many of their individual swims,” Wittrock said. “One of the team’s major losses was Marie Shibasaki. She moved due to relocation and was a versatile swimmer for the team. The team also lost seniors Anna Loch and Gwen Joslin. Both of those ladies were valuable relay members and competed in a variety of events for the team.”
The squad is working toward keeping up with the high expectations set forth by Wittrock.
“As a team, we have individuals that are catching onto technique and stroke mechanics quickly which is great in trying to build a strong technical and aerobic base before we begin competing,” Wittrock said. “The girls have been willing to try new drills and equipment to further improve upon their mechanics and correct errors in technique. We have many new swimmers with past experience swimming and an eagerness to improve.”
The battle for higher roster numbers has always stood in the way of greater team progress, but the LVHS cause may be helped by an influx of bodies.
“In the past, our weakness has been numbers, and this is lessened by our better numbers this season, but the team could still be smaller than some other teams in our league and state division,” Wittrock said. “We hope to improve upon our state consideration times from last year. We only had one individual earn a spot in the state meet, so it would be great to build upon that with relays and individuals. The team is motivated and excited to build upon their potential this season.”
One of those team members, Waugh, is feeling good about what she has seen in the pool at the Riverfront Community Center.
“We have a lot of girls who are willing to work hard and push themselves to be the best,” Waugh said. “We are working a lot more on endurance stuff this year and working on form and technique. This year will be a great year. We have a mix of new girls who come from club teams and they are freshmen so that will benefit us this year by having more girls that have that experience to pass on to newer girls.”
The swimming culture continues to grow at Leavenworth with the recent success of the boys’ program. The girls seem to be catching up.
“It is getting more popular and our coaches are really good and that’s one thing our team is benefitting from, having great swim coaches,” Waugh said. “I think it’s attracting a lot more girls and guys to join the swim team. I just love the team environment and the girls having my back and supporting me every single way and every day.”
How does that translate in the final year as Sunflower swimmers?
“We will make some noise before we leave, we want to leave a name or legacy behind, because there has been so much talk about us leaving it,” Waugh said. “It could show what Leavenworth is all about. We are focusing on pushing ourselves, doing our best and giving 110 percent at every practice and push our limits.”