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Boys swimming: Blattner leads Heights to second place in 5A

Published Feb. 22 at 9:22 p.m. | Last updated Feb. 22 at 7:45 p.m.

TOPEKA – It wasn’t anything technical Bryce Blattner did to bounce back from a somewhat disappointing preliminaries performance during the Class 5-1A swimming finals.

He didn’t fine-tune a kick, tweak a stroke or change suits.

Instead, the Heights junior just made sure he ate better.

“To be honest, I just didn’t eat enough breakfast — I just had one bowl of cereal,” Blattner said of his sluggish prelim performance. “Today, I ate a better breakfast and when I got in warmups, I felt a lot better. I just came out and swam and I wanted to solidify myself as the best in the state.”

Blattner certainly fed that notion with his showing Saturday at Capitol Federal Natatorium. The Falcon had a hand in three gold medals in leading Heights to the first team trophy in program history as the Falcons finished runnerup to Miege (261-242).

“I would have never thought it coming in here my freshman year,” said Blattner, who won the 200 individual medley and was on the Falcons’ two winning relays (200 medley and 400 freestyle). “I was thinking more individual and relay success. I never thought a team trophy would come out of this.”

Going into the state meet, Blattner had the top time in 5-1A in the individual medley by more than six seconds, 1:55.26. But he didn’t come close to that time in Friday’s prelims, managing just a 1:59.15.

In Saturday’s final, however, Blattner was back to form. He bolted to a quick lead on top qualifier Kevin McGowan of Shawnee Heights and never relinquished it, winning by more than four seconds in 1:54.10.

A second individual gold eluded Blattner, but only barely. Battling defending champion Jon Lavalle of Maize South for the title in the 100 backstroke, Blattner was side by side the entire way before Lavalle nudged just ahead at the end to defend his title in 51.52, .44 ahead of Blattner.

“I knew that coming in and it means a lot to beat him because I didn’t have much left today because I was pretty tired from yesterday,” Lavalle said. “Honestly, he was so close to me I had no idea if I was going to win. Usually with peripherals, you can tell where they are, but I had no idea where he was. I knew with Bryce coming down from 6A it was going to be tough to defend, but I’d rather win like that 100 times over than have it easy.”

Blattner was joined on the winning 200 medley relay by Creighton Sanders, Dawson Gantenbein and Dylan Jensen with the foursome coming up .42 seconds off the state-meet record with their winning time of 1:38.64. Gantenbein, Jensen, Blattner and Dillon Cullinan teamed to win the 400 freestyle relay in 3:16.89.

Gantenbein added a runner-up finish in the 100 butterfly (53.08) and third in the 50 freestyle (22.20), Jensen was fourth in the 50 free (22.41) and 100 freestyle (49.79), Cullinan was fifth in the 200 freestyle (1:52.09) and Sanders was seventh in the 100 breaststroke (1:06.57). The Falcons also got a fifth from diver Drew McCellan.

Rocket history — Three years ago, Rose Hill began its program. Saturday, the Rockets got their first state champion.

Actually, two.

Gavin Smith upheld his position as top qualifier in the 100 butterfly to become Rose Hill’s first state champion. He was quickly joined by freshman teammate Noah Baden, who was an upset winner in the 100 breaststroke.

“It means a lot to me, my coach and our school,” Smith said of making history and helping Rose Hill tie for fourth in the team standings with Maize South.

Smith was the favorite to win the 100 butterfly after qualifying more than a second and a half faster than Heights’ Gantenbein. But coming straight off the medal stand after his runner-up finish in the 50 freestyle, Smith rushed to the starting blocks and didn’t get his cap tightly on his head and midway through the race it came off.

It wasn’t nearly as distracting as Gantenbein’s presence in the next lane, but Smith overcame both to get the milestone victory.

“I felt it gradually coming off and going over my face,” said Smith, who won in 53.08, just .22 ahead of Gantenbein. “When I was coming back, I saw it right in the middle of the lane and I went right over it.”

Baden, meanwhile, admitted he’d given himself about a 30-percent chance of winning the breaststroke after qualifying third. But neck and neck with defending champion Will Smith of Carroll coming down the final 25, Baden was able to pull ahead and won by more than a second in 1:00.01.

“I’m pretty surprised right now,” Baden said. “All of the hard work I’ve put in, working on the technique I need, really paid off.”

Smith nearly added a third gold for the Rockets, but came up just short in the 50 free duel with Miege’s Jack Wirtz after the two had posted identical top qualifying times. Wirtz won in 21.86, just edging Smith’s 21.99.

Baden and Smith were all-state picks along with Heights’ Blattner, Gantenbein and Jensen, Maize South’s Lavalle and Jacob Evraets and Independent’s Richard Zirkle, who was runner-up of Hayden’s John-Martin Schmidt — the swimmer of the meet — in the 200 freestyle.

Clemons delivers — After qualifying first in the Class 6A 200 individual medley for the second straight year, Maize’s Christopher Clemons was determined not to let history repeat itself any further. Last year, the Eagle wasn’t able to back it up in the finals, finishing second.

Saturday, Clemons avenged that loss in a way. He didn’t beat the guy who got him last year, but instead fought off a trio of challengers to win in 1:53.41.

“I knew I had to get out strong, keep going on the back and breast because I knew Nate (Pirner of Wichita East) was going to be coming up and then in the freestyle I just had to bring it home,” Clemons said. “All I knew is I took it out fast and was able to bring it home. The end result was great.”

Clemons also had qualified first in the 100 butterfly, but couldn’t add a second title. Free State freshman Jordan Portela, who earned 6A swimmer of the meet honors, snagged the title in 50.79 while Clemons slipped to third behind Washburn Rural’s John Fritsch (51.43), finishing in 51.75.

Maize also got a runner-up finish from Preston Barley in the 200 freestyle, who also finished behind Portela after qualifying first. Portela won in 1:41.53 and Barley was next in 1:43.52.

Defending champion East came up empty in the gold-medal hunt, but still came away with a trophy. The Blue Aces took third with 282 points, trailing champion Blue Valley North (312.5) and SM East (301).

East got 14 top-eight finishes, led by a runner-up finish from Brandon Shinsato in the 100 backstroke. Shinsato challenged Washburn Rural’s Nick Badsky the entire way but couldn’t quite knock off the top-seeded Junior Blue, finishing in 52.01, just .23 off Badsky’s winning mark of 51.78.