By Dennis Pleuss / Jeffco Public Schools
THORNTON — The dynasty of Evergreen’s girls swim and dive team continued on Feb. 11 at the Veterans Memorial Aquatics Center.
The Cougars dominated in the pool to claim a fifth straight Class 3A state championship.
“I really think the true secret is we are here to have fun,” Evergreen junior Finley Anderson said of the Cougars’ dynasty. “There is obviously pressure to get another state title every year, but the main goal is to have fun and enjoy each other. It is fun working hard with people that you like.”
Evergreen is now tied for second with Mullen for the most girls swim and dive state championships with seven. The Cougars won back-to-back 4A state titles in 2014 and 2015 before its current run on five straight 3A championships that began in 2019.
The title came with the third different head coach for Evergreen over the past three years. Longtime coach Liz Hudd coached the Cougars to 3A titles in 2019, 2020 and 2021 before retiring. Lisa Morrow stepped in as the Cougars’ head coach last season, and this year Steve Schneiter took over.
“It’s been crazy. I’ve known Liz for a really long time since I was about 10 years old. I knew Lisa a little bit because I swam with her daughter on the same team,” Anderson said of both former head coaches who were on hand Saturday night to help the Cougars celebrate. “I didn’t know Steve at all until this season, but he has been great. He has definitely adapted to our team a lot. It was fun getting to know him and hopefully he comes back next year.”
The Cougars finished with 443 team points, edging out last year’s team total of 422. Discovery Canyon went home with the state runner-up trophy racking up 333 points. Glenwood Springs finished third with 310 points.
The Cougars had six individuals in multiple A heat finals.
Freshman Tally Riddle (200 and 500 freestyle), junior Aspen Fisher (200 IM and 500 freestyle), junior Kileigh Ackerman (50 freestyle and 100 backstroke), sophomore Maya Patel (100 butterfly and 100 backstroke) and junior Riley Rains (100 butterfly and 100 breaststroke) were all in multiple championship heats.
“There was a lot of pressure with the number of state titles we have,” Schneiter said after guiding the Cougars this season. “I knew we had a great team to build upon and continue to take it to the next level.”
Anderson came in attempting to repeat as the individual state champion in the 100 butterfly and 100 backstroke. Anderson — who has verbally committed to swim at the University of California, Berkeley — had no problem defending her individual titles.
She won the butterfly in a time of 55.35 seconds. Anderson then repeated in the backstroke by breaking the 3A state record that she had set the previous day during preliminaries. Her time of 54.10 seconds is now just a little more than a second off the all-Colorado state record of legend Missy Franklin.
“It’s crazy. I’m committed to the same college she went to,” Anderson said of Franklin, who set the 100 backstroke record with a time of 52.30 seconds in 2011 swimming for Regis. “Missy is someone all of us looked up to. It is fun to be in her shadow still, but fun to see those records and maybe it’s a possibility one day.”
Anderson has one more year of high school left to try to chase down more records.
“Great performances by Finley in both the 100 fly and 100 back,” Schneiter said. “She is an extremely talented athlete who puts the work in. She truly understands what it takes to be a next caliber athlete.”
Another record-setting performance on Saturday night was from St. Mary’s Academy junior Caitlin Crysel. She broke her own 3A record in the 200 IM that she set last year. Crysel swam a time of 2:04.38, almost a minute faster than her time last year in the finals.
Still, the night belonged to the Cougars who got off to a great start before the swim events even started. Sophomore Ailish Ocasek, senior Julia Swanke and freshman Eliza Thompson got things going for the Cougars. Evergreen’s trio of divers racked up 30 team points during the Saturday morning dive competition. Ocasek (8th), Swanke (10th) and Thompson (19th) provided some nice early points before the swim finals.
Swanke was the only Evergreen diver to place in the top-20 last year.
The swimming started with the Cougars repeating as state champs in the 200 medley relay. Anderson, Rains, Ackerman and senior Alyssa Cook combined for a winning time of 1:48.79.
“It was so bittersweet,” Cook said after the Cougars wrapped up their fifth straight 3A. “I will never forget my time swimming for Evergreen. The last four years have been amazing.”
Cook and Anderson are best friends. Anderson also added that it was sad to swim in the last meet with Evergreen’s current seniors.
“Everyone works super hard on their club teams and with our high school team,” Cook said. “We had some fast freshmen coming in. It was amazing to finish out the season with them at state. It was so cool.”
Dennis Pleuss is the Sports Information Director for Jeffco Public Schools. For more Jeffco coverage, go to CHSAANow.com.