After its Friday evening win and Saturday evening split, the swim team had great reason to celebrate more than their points. The swimmers focused all their energy Saturday night to honor the team’s two seniors, Peyton Bowen and Theresa Smith.
“Peyton and Theresa have been great stabilizing forces on the team,” Head coach Kurt Kirner said in an email. “They truly put their teammates first and are always the most supportive duo on the team.”
While Bowen and Smith’s athletic commitment to the team comes from years of training, their emotional support was, perhaps, inspired by the care and comfort their own families provided them.
Bowen said she remembers finishing up a junior lifeguard training course with a swim around a pier on the shores of California. Already a proficient swimmer, the little girl knew jumping into the open ocean would do her no harm, but that didn’t change the fact that she had planned to take the big plunge with her dad, whom L.A. rush hour had made late.
“I leapt in the water and started swimming, and soon I felt my dad’s hands on my feet,” Bowen recalled. “He had run into the water to finish the swim with me.”
Smith’s parents both worked for the United States Air Force as pilots, so they navigated the skies better than the waters. But Smith still tears up at memories she made racing one of her sisters. Four years ago, Smith was competing at a meet for her club team as a senior in high school. When she looked at the girl mounting the diving block in her neighboring lane, she realized she was swimming against her sister, Clare Smith. Theresa sporting a green suit and Clare one in red, the Smith sisters got to race in the 200 IM three times that year. Theresa won once and Clare out touched her twice. Clare Smith now runs track as a freshman at Benedictine College in Kansas.
“Now I’m in blue, but she’s still in red,” Smith said.
The swim team recognized Bowen and Smith’s leadership and devotion when it celebrated them both on Saturday night as they competed Saturday afternoon in Hillsdale’s own McAvoy Natatorium against Ohio Northern University and Case Western University. The team beat Ohio Northern 162 to 125 and lost to Case Western Reserve University 184 to 107. The day before, the team triumphed over Indiana Wesleyan University 121 to 80 and placed first in every event except two.
Junior Grace Houghton cruised ahead of the competition in the mile swim at 18:46.66, defeating the other freestylers by a whopping 27 seconds. Houghton said that she had never swam the event before Friday. The G-MAC nominated Houghton as its Swimmer of the Week after her performance over the weekend with three spectacular wins.
“I broke up the mile into thirds, and then just took it a third at a time. I work well as a back half swimmer, meaning I’ll make my move on the last half when everyone’s getting tired. Or, in this case, I caught up on the second third and held on,” Houghton said. “The second my head was out of the water at the finish, I heard all my team cheering and it was just great.”
Freshman Hannah Wilkens followed Houghton’s lead and won the 500 freestyle, 16 seconds ahead of her competition and clocking in at 5:28.25.
Houghton took another first in the 100 butterfly at 1:01.87 and Wilkens also won the 200 freestyle at 2:02.17. Freshman Katherine Heeres swiped first place in the 100 backstroke at 1:02.91. She also headed up the 200 IM at 2:15.85 with Junior Anika Ellingson just behind her in second place at 2:17.86.
Other first place wins included sophomore Victoria Addis who ousted competition by six seconds in the 100 breastroke at 1:09.30. The chargers dominated the 100 backstroke when sophomore Allie Mattie, sophomore Bailey Bickerstaff, freshman Mary Vita, and junior Tiffany Farris took first through fourth place.
The chargers returned to McAvoy the following evening to wrack up a few more spectacular wins.
Ellingson took first in the 100 and 200 breaststroke at 1:07.05 and 2:29.84. Heeres pulled first place in both the 200 freestyle at 1:59.42 and the 400 IM at 4:48.97. Houghton’s winning streak lasted through Saturday as she conquered the 200 butterfly in 2:13.15.
Farris finished second in her 1,000-yard freestyle swim — an amazing feat for a sprinter. At 11:38.28, she out touched the third place winner by eight one hundredths of a second, knifing through the water to pass her in the final leg of the race.
“On the second-to-last 50 yards, I was so very, very worn down. I could see my coach wanting me to speed up, but I personally didn’t know if I had the energy to do so. I just wanted to glide in to the finish,” Farris said. “On that last 50 yards, I pushed off the wall and I could see the feet of the other girl ahead of me. That competitive drive that I have kicked in and I decided to go for it.”
Heeres, Ellingson, Houghton, and Vita won the 400 medley relay in 4:03.32. Farris, Addis, Rao, and Vita took second place at 1:44.04 in the 200 freestyle relay.
“I find it really fun to swim more for the team,” Vita said. “In individual events, you’re still doing it for the team, but it feels a lot more like that when you’re in the relay with other girls.”
As the mid-February G-MAC Championships approaches, Kirner said his swimmers need rest and recovery to prepare.
“So many have had to gear back because of difficulties physically but the great thing is others who normally swim in the background stepped up to provide us with a winning record,” Kirner said.