When John Hamilton looks at Hickman’s five state qualifiers in the swimming pool, he sees beyond the faded swim caps, pink goggles and innocent smiles.
What he notices has been apparent since the first day of practice, and he is confident little will change entering today’s preliminaries of the Swimming and Diving Championships at St. Peter’s Rec-Plex.
“They are very competitive swimmers and young ladies and they’ll atone for themselves very well, even their first time there,” said Hamilton, Hickman and Rock Bridge swim coach.
The Kewpies will compete in nine individual and two relay events with hopes of qualifying for the finals at 3 p.m. Saturday.
Sophomore Shallon Garrett and junior Chelsea Laun competed in the state meet last year, but it is the first appearance for Claire Piester, Julie Schenker and Mary Sheahen.
Rock Bridge and Columbia Independent failed to qualify any swimmers.
“We’re not really scared of anyone,” Laun said. “We go out there, even if we’re really tired, and do our best and I think that’s a good quality to have.”
In his 26 years of coaching in Columbia, Hamilton has sent as many as 24 swimmers to the state meet. He said the numbers tend to fluctuate and there is no reason to doubt these five, considering the experience they have.
On top of assorted high school meets, these girls have swum in United States Swimming and Region 8 meets across the state and region.
“All of these girls are experienced swimmers,” Hamilton said. “They’re not newcomers to big-pressure type meets.”
Nevertheless, Hamilton said it is uncharacteristic not to send any seniors.
“They’re a very young group,” Hamilton said. “It’s unique not to have any seniors going. That doesn’t happen too often.”
Laun leads the Kewpies. She swam the 100-yard butterfly and 100 breaststroke at the state championships her freshman and sophomore years.
This year she qualified in the 200 individual medley, 100 butterfly and the 100 breaststroke, but swimmers have to choose two events in which to compete at the state championships. She opted not to swim the 100 breaststroke because it was too close to the 400 freestyle relay, and she wanted to save her energy for the relay.
“I going to try and stay relaxed and have fun,” Laun said. “I’m not nervous. I feel prepared. We’ve trained a lot and we’ve worked really hard.”
In addition to the 400 freestyle relay, Hickman will compete in the 200 medley relay.
“Our relays have been looking strong and they’ve done well all year long,” Hamilton said. “There is no certainty at all, but those are solid bets to do well.”
Schenker, Piester and Sheahen will swim both relays and two individual events.
Schenker will swim the 50 freestyle and the 100 backstroke. Piester qualified for the 100 freestyle and the 100 breaststroke. Sheahen swims the 500 freestyle and 100 breaststroke.
Garrett finished second in the 500 freestyle at the Last Chance Qualifier on Saturday to qualify for the state meet. She finished in 5 minutes, 40.98 seconds, two seconds faster than the qualifying time and more than four seconds faster than her previous season best.
“I knew it was in her because she has trained hard and I knew she was capable of bringing that time down,” Hamilton said. “It was just a matter of putting the race together a little bit better. She has a tendency to kind of fall back or kind of drift.
“Well this time she went out hard, like she normally does, and stayed up there. She kept the pressure on, kept her 50 splits right at 33 and 34 seconds, and she did that for the first six 50s, and I knew she was sitting herself up really well for a good race.”
Garrett said she had the physical capabilities. It was grasping the mental capability that helped her improve and will prove the biggest obstacle this weekend.
“The pressure lies within yourself,” Garrett said. “Any type of pressure that you put on yourself is going to be greater than any type of pressure that comes from it being at a big meet.”
Hamilton said he doesn’t hype the state championships.
“Although they have been in big meets, they’re a little bit nervous like anybody would,” Hamilton said. “My strategy is just to keep them relaxed. This is a big meet, but I told them, ‘It’s just one of many meets you’ll be in in your career.’ All of them will be swimming much longer than just this weekend.”
Hickman probably won’t be in the running for a team trophy, but it is going with the hopes of qualifying for finals and making significant drops in times.
“We have a lot of the bases covered and I believe these five girls are pretty good swimmers, so they’ll represent Hickman well,” Hamilton said. “They know what they are capable of doing.”
Garrett said the Kewpies will try to focus on what needs to get down and maintain that focus throughout the meet.
“Even though we are small there is a lot of talent here,” Garrett said, “and I think that overall if we don’t even place, as far as the top scoring or anything like that, I think that it’s where personally everyone will do a really good job.”