Years from now, swimmers at the Bruce Gresly Aquatic Center will look to the sea of green banners behind the starting blocks and find a physical reminder of the 2019 state championship, the program’s 25th overall and 23rd in succession.
That banner will look like all the others, but the team that earned it was one-of-a-kind.
Even by LVHS standards, this boys swim season was remarkable.
According to head coach Shawna Morgan, expectations were high from day one.
“We knew coming into the season that this was a special team and that the season was going to be one for the record books. Even knowing all of that, these boys still exceeded our expectations.”
At the Wyoming 3A State Swimming and Diving Championships in Gillette, the Tigers won nine of the twelve contested events. Lander broke seven school records (an eighth was set at the conference meet two weeks earlier), five state records (three of which are faster than the 4A state record), and three Campbell County Aquatic Center pool records.
LVHS swam three All-American Consideration times, and senior Caleb Huelskamp earned automatic All-American status with his time in the 100 yard breaststroke.
In addition to the first-place finishes and records were individual successes for each of the 15 Tigers who competed at the state meet.
“Every athlete had personal bests at state, some cutting over 20 seconds,” said Morgan.
Assistant coach Tim Hester — an integral part of the LVHS program for 28 years who has witnessed 56 combined girls and boys state meets — called the performance of this year’s squad “epic.”
“We were the only team at this year’s state meet to post a 100% time cut,” Hester noted, explaining that every Lander athlete swam faster in the preliminaries than his seed time entering the meet.
“Lander’s tapers are legendary,” Morgan added of the team’s collective time drop. “We’ve been told that they are magical, and this state meet proved that once again.”
The Tigers’ divers — junior Preston Plaisted and senior Dominic Tejada — contributed to this title in a big way, according to assistant coach Faith Hamilton.
“Both Preston and Dominic dove very well under the increased pressure of a state championship setting,” Hamilton said. “Dominic worked incredibly hard to learn a list and make diving finals without any previous diving experience, and Preston was able to put it all together to have a very good performance to win the event.”
Plaisted earned Lander’s first victory in the diving event since 2011.
Morgan said that the athletes challenged themselves with lofty expectations, then rose to the challenge of meeting and exceeding them.
“This season the kids had some pretty awesome goals, and I didn’t quite know how we were going to accomplish them,” explained Morgan. “After talking to Tom Hudson of Laramie, I got some new workout ideas and an overall season plan to help the boys reach their goals, and our new workouts benefited every athlete on the team. We were racing faster and had more confidence.”
Huelskamp — who received All-State recognition along with junior Ryan Brinda, junior Nick Kulow, freshman Jonny Kulow and Plaisted — made his last campaign as a Tiger swimmer one to remember.
“Caleb had a season that most could only dream of having,” said Morgan. “I am so proud of him and everything he accomplished. At the state meet he broke four state records, had three All-American Consideration times and an automatic All-American time. That puts him in the top 100 high school athletes in the country in the breastroke. He was also recognized as athlete of the year and meet voted on by the 3A coaches.”
This year’s team as a whole will not be soon forgotten.
“Words can’t describe how proud I am of all of the boys on the team this year,” said Morgan. “A team like this comes around once in a lifetime, and I was lucky enough to be a part of it.
“Thank you to all of the parents for sharing your amazing sons with us and making us yummy breakfasts and dinners. Thank you to LVHS principal Brad Neuendorf for coming to our meets and to state to cheer for us, and thank you to the high school staff and the Lander community for your continued support. Last but certainly not least, thank you to the Lander Swim Club! We could not continue to do what we do without you. Keep building our program!”
This story and many earlier stories regarding the Lander Swim team were submitted for publication by Chase McFadden. County 10 wishes to tip a hat for his contributions to local community news.