COLUMBIA — Hickman girls swimmers Nicole Mello and Jenahlyn Felten jumped up and down while they cheered for Kortney Betz in the finals of the 100-yard freestyle at the CoMo High School Invitational on Thursday night at the MU Student Recreation Complex pool.
They hopped along the pool deck for the final 15 yards of Betz's race, parallel with their friend, arms stretched toward the sky, screaming so hard their faces turned red. But they kept their eyes glued to the water while Betz made her final push toward the wall.
As Betz touched the wall first with a state meet qualifying time of 55.5 seconds, Mello and Felten, clad in Kewpies purple and white from head to toe, went berserk as they congratulated their friend.
Mello and Felten are not teammates of Betz, who is a freshman at Rock Bridge High School, but they still supported her as if she were their sister.
The rival high school swim teams are both coached by John Hamilton. The teams sit together at meets, room together during travel meets, and often expend as much energy cheering for each other outside of the water, as the swimmer exerts in the pool.
"They help me through everything," Betz said. "It really just pushes you knowing that everybody is watching you."
"There is no team line, so to speak, between the two," Hamilton said. "They're very supportive. It is what I think sports oughta be about."
Because of a malfunction in the heating element of the pool where the teams normally practice at Hickman, Hamilton's swimmers haven't had scheduled practices since Dec. 24, but both squads still managed to post impressive midseason performances.
Hickman had three individual preliminary swims quick enough to qualify for the fastest heat in the afternoon at the invitational (Mello in the 200-yard freestyle and Felten in the 100 butterfly and 200 individual medley) and two relays (200 freestyle and 400 freestyle relay), while Rock Bridge had two top-five finishes by Betz (50-yard freestyle and 100-yard freestyle).
"I really felt that they swam well today, they weren't intimidated by the meet, or the caliber of competition. They came forward and, for the most part, even improved in their swimming," Hamilton said.
Hamilton said he is excited about the direction his team is headed and what a good meet like this might mean looking forward to the end of the season.
"I see this shift in the girls . . . starting to be confident in themselves and what they can do," Hamilton said. "The team is progressing well."