Freshman swimmers dominate Wichita-area pools
Freshmen Katelyn Blattner and Maggie Hatfield didn’t take long to make their mark on the Heights swimming program.
Blattner has set school records in the 200-yard freestyle and the 500 free, while Hatfield has set the Heights record in the 50 free. They also have helped set records in the 200 and 400 relays.
And there’s still so much time remaining in their careers. Their fastest meets are upcoming, and they have their sights firmly set on winning titles at the Class 5-1A meet in May.
“I have four years of this,” Blattner said of competing at Heights. “It’s going to be fun.”
Blattner and Hatfield aren’t the only freshmen who have burst onto the high school swim scene. East’s Madison Allen and Aidan Chen have, too, along with Trinity Academy’s Taylor Kostboth and Maize South’s Mia Gibson.
“They’re coming in pretty decorated,” Heights coach Dale Heckman said of the six. “They’re a good group, and they’ve all been connected a little bit in the past (through club swimming), and now they’re scattered out a little bit. They have a lot of topside, and they still have a way to go in the high school area.”
The six have swam competitively since elementary school and all six had junior national qualifying times. Count on all six contending for state titles.
“I’m definitely set on wanting to get a state championship,” Gibson said. “I get that it may not be this year, but it’s what I’ve always wanted.”
Just how good this group of freshmen is was clear at the 17-team Northwest meet last Saturday. All six finished in the top three in multiple events.
Blattner won the 200 free, Chan won the 100 breaststroke, Kostboth won the 200 individual medley and Gibson won the 100 backstroke. Each of the six placed in the top three in a relay, too, with Chan and Kostboth on a winning relay and Allen on two winning relays.
“It’s fun to compete with them,” Blattner said. “We all go back and forth between club and high school, but it’s a lot of fun. We’ve competed for so long, we really want to see each other improve.”
East coach Joe Hutchinson, who has 15 freshman swimmers, has been impressed with Chan and Allen’s attitudes regarding the team.
“They didn’t come in saying, ‘We’re junior national qualifiers, potential record holders, we’re the best, follow us.’ They came in (and said), ‘How can I contribute, how can I get better, how can I make the others around me better?’ ” Hutchinson said.
The responsibility for these coaches is to, in the limited time they have the girls, help them develop as athletes.
Heckman and Hutchinson are longtime coaches, while Herd is 26 and in her first season as Maize South’s coach.
And with Gibson comes some pressure.
“It’s really intimidating, having that kind of talent coming in and me being a first-year coach,” Herd said. “I didn’t feel I was worth because she’s had so much background in swimming and experience, whereas I haven’t.
“… But she’s put herself above the rest because she works so hard.”
Each of the coaches specifically noted the work ethic and dedication of these freshmen. Heckman said having Hatfield and Blattner in practice has raised the overall intensity of all the swimmers.
The work ethic “is contagious and everyone gets better,” he said.
Blattner is a distance swimmer, excelling in the 200 and 500 free, along with the backstroke. Allen is also strong in the backstroke, along with the 50 and 200 free. Hatfield is a sprinter and strong in the butterfly.
Kostboth’s best events are the 200 IM and the 50 and 100 free. Gibson is a sprinter, as is Kostboth, who also does well in the 200 IM. Chan’s best stroke is the breaststroke, but Hutchinson figures her best events are probably the 200 breast or 400 IM, which aren’t offered in high school.
While each swimmer has her favorite and best strokes and events, their coaches rave about their versatility and willingness to try something new.
“She’ll do anything,” Herd said of Gibson. “Free and backstroke are her main thing, but anything we need her to do, she’ll do for the team.”
Trinity coach Carla Campbell is comfortable putting Kostboth into any event.
“When you have someone who can swim the IM, they are pretty good at a lot of strokes,” Campbell said. “She’s fairly well-rounded.”
For Hutchinson, he looks at high school as a perfect time to try different strokes.
“Oftentimes you get some kids who, as they get older, they grow and their strengths change,” he said. “… One of the things I like to do is give them an opportunity to try a lot of different things. Our team has the luxury of being fairly big. I don’t have to have this person swim the IM every time because they’re not the only person who can swim the IM.”