Megan Grier and Makenna Wilson couldn’t stay away from the Chaparral girls swimming team for their senior season, and their return is paying big dividends.
Each one captured a gold medal and a top-three finish as the Wolverines won their first Continental League team championship Saturday at Heritage.
It didn’t matter to Chaparral that an asterisk might be attached, as perennial state power Regis Jesuit didn’t bring its entire squad -- including multi-Olympic gold medalist Missy Franklin, who is scheduled to compete in this weekend’s Class 5A state meet in Fort Collins - and most of those who were there didn’t compete in their primary events.
Chaparral capped its climb to the top by winning the day’s final three events: Wilson the 100-yard backstroke (57.90), Grier the 100 breaststroke (1:08.50) and the 400 freestyle relay (Grier and Wilson as members along with Hannah Paris and Annie Graves) with a league- and pool-record 3:35.44. Six other Wolverines had top-six finishes as Chaparral edged Regis (no individual champions but winner of two relays) 493-467. Rock Canyon was third with 465 points.
“I’m so excited and I think we completely deserve it,’’ said Wilson, who also was second in the 100 freestyle. “The girls worked so hard. It’s an honor to be on the team with them.’’
Wilson and Grier took last season off to swim with the DU Hilltoppers club team, and were rewarded them with Division I scholarships: Wilson to LSU and Grier to West Point. Wilson made the 2010 state finals in the backstroke and 200 individual medley; Grier was ineligible as a sophomore under state transfer rules after switching from Regis and will be making her first state-meet appearance.
Wilson will compete in the backstroke and either the 100 or IM at state, while Grier will go in the 50 and 100 freestyles.
“I definitely missed the team aspect; it’s been so much fun,’’ said Grier, who also took third in the 50 freestyle.
“It’s the first-ever banner we’ll have for swimming.’’
The first league is “a big deal,’’ said Chaparral coach Brooke Westall. “We have no pool (the team trains evenings at Grandview’s pool), and several years ago we were lucky to be top six in the league. This is such a great thing.
“These girls worked their butts off. It’s been just kind of a magical year for them.’’
The Wolverines trailed by some 50 points halfway through the finals before Wilson and Grier led the charge down the stretch. “I knew we had a good chance, but we had to have a much stronger back half,’’ Westall said.
Chaparral has qualified 10 girls for state, six more than last year’s previous high, and it’s a blend of experience (three seniors, including Graves, who was 11th in the backstroke at state) and youth (a freshman class that included three finalists at the league meet, and two sophomores who combined for three top-six places).
Legend and Castle View had their moments as well.
The Titans finished fifth behind Heritage (324-287), but produced a pair of champions, Allison Arnold in the 500 freestyle and diver Cat Badillo, both defending their titles.
Arnold, a junior who was second in the 500 at last year’s state meet, won by more than 10 seconds with a time of 5:12.73. She also took second in the IM but is expected to double with the butterfly at state (she was ninth in the 200 freestyle last year).
Arnold’s odds of winning the 500 are vastly improved now that Cherry Creek’s Bonnie Brandon - last year’s other dominant swimmer -- has moved on.
Brandon beat Arnold by just under 15 seconds last year. “I probably won’t beat her state record (4:43.52), but it would be nice to get first,’’ Arnold said. “But there are a lot of good 500ers out there.’’
Badillo, who finished second to two-time state champion Michal Bower of Loveland at state last year, edged Mountain Vista’s Ashley Peterson by .9 point in the league final at Littleton.
It was the first 11-dive competition and just the third meet of the season for Badillo. She took off four months from training and diving for therapy on a sore hip and lower back that she said had been bothering her for a year, returning about a month ago.
“I haven`t been able to do full practices, so I’m very happy with my score,’’ Badillo said. “I’m happy I finished all of my dives. My expectations for state are to do my dives to the best of my ability.’’
Castle View finished eighth and got two second-place finishes by senior Morgan Stepp in the 200 freestyle and breaststroke. She was 12th in the butterfly at state in 2012.