Echoing cheers filled the Cortez Recreation Center Friday night, as 50 parents, family members, and students urged on the Cortez high school girls swim team in a match against Durango.
The MCHS Panthers did not come out on top, but greatly improved from last year, said second-year coach Ian MacLaren.
“We took some events from them this year, so I’m proud of their strong showing,” he said. “We were competitive, and I think we put a scare in (Durango).”
Diving from the start blocks, the lanky teenagers transformed into impressive athletes in the water, with powerful strokes, speed, and practiced form.
In the 200 individual medley, Cortez’s Bailey Duran pulled out to a good lead, but was temporarily outpaced by Durango’s Haley Warren. Sensing defeat with the roar of the crowd, Duran then surged ahead to regain the lead for good, winning with a 2:45.43 time.
“I was really happy with it, it was a fun race,” Duran said afterwards. “It is really good when you hear people and your friends cheering you on.”
In the 200-yard freestyle, MCHS’s Elana Cope impressed the crowd with a 2:25.29 fastest time, just ahead of teammate Kayla Hageman (2:29.81).
“Elana swam a hell of a race,” coach MacLaren said. “She absolutely just turned it on in the last 50; she showed incredible guts and got the win.”
And Madison VanBibber came away with a victory, outpacing competitors in the 100 freestyle with a 1:01.7 winning time.
“The meet went well. We have been training hard, and the effort paid off,” VanBibber said. “We still have room for improvement, like in our turns.”
MacLaren put together a tough relay team for the 400-yard freestyle relay with Cope, Hageman, Bailey, and VanBibber, but the Fab Four came up just short.
MCHS held a good lead for the first three laps, but Durango’s ringer, Brooke Kniffin, made an impressive push in the last lap and hit the time board first to overtake VanBibber at the last second.
“It was so close! Durango has always been a good team and they push us to swim harder,” VanBibber said. “The tough competition makes us want to win more.”
“Durango’s got a nasty swimmer on the end of that relay. I knew she was fast, and we could not quite hold her off,” MacLaren said. “Kniffin is one of the strongest in the league, and credit to her, she swam a great race.”
MCHS’s Fabulous Four also took the 200 freestyle relay, winning with a 1:57.10 time.
“We showed signs of improvement. Last year against Durango we did not take any events, and this year we got quite a few races,” MacLaren said.
Durango won the meet with 470 points to MCHS’s 402 points. Not having a diving team hurt Cortez’s overall score.
“The key to moving forward is to maintain our focus,” MacLaren said at the end of the event. “We had a strong meet, but we were on the losing side, and it is not where we want to be. We are going to train harder, because we come to win.”