Make It Seven! Lady Tigers win seventh straight district title, Tigers second by seven points

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Liana Planz (left), Jaynie Ferguson (center), and Olivia Maddux pose with Megan Nitcher’s 2013 100-yard Butterfly school-record plate following the trio breaking the record at the District 10-6A Swimming & Diving Meet at the Roy & Jean Potts Swim Center. Photo Credit: BHS Swimming


Fast, energetic, loud, and spirited. Four words to describe the 2019 District 10-6A Swimming and Diving Championships at Roy and Jean Potts Swim Center last Friday and Saturday.
A six-year old 100-yard butterfly record that was passed by three different swimmers highlighted the preliminaries on Friday.
The 59.40 mark set by Lady Tiger great Megan Nitcher was surpassed three times in consecutive heats. In the first heat, freshman Olivia Maddux set the new standard with a time of 58.87. In the second heat, sophomore Jaynie Ferguson logged a 59.35. In the final heat, freshman Liana Planz matched a Ferguson’s 59.35.
Belton head coach Patrick Henry was truly amazed by the feat.
“I have had events where two girls had beat the times,” Henry said, who coached a district meet for the first time in nine years that either his daughter or sons had not participated in. “That was thrilling to watch. Two freshmen and a sophomore no less. Simply incredible.”
In the finals on Saturday, Belton’s swimmers looked to take the field by storm. And it didn’t take long at all, as they took to the pool in the 200-yard relay. Here is a synopsis of the meet:

Girls 200-yard Medley Relay: Belton, first place, school-record 1:52.68.

The relay team of Maddux, Ferguson, Madden, Baggerly, and Thea Lancaster eclipsed the 200-yard Medley relay mark. They led in each lap and at every relay, with a 7.15-second margin over second-place Waco Midway and 11.70-second margin over third-place Killeen Ellison. The new standard nipped the 1:52.70 mark, held by the relay grouping of Savannah Henry, Maggie Murphy, Natalie Hazlewood, and Carissa Basaldua in 2015.
“That record was set my first year here and was the second-oldest record, next to the 100 Fly,” Henry said.

Boys 200-yard Medley Relay: Belton, second place, 1:46.78.

This race was Belton’s closest of the three on the day, as they battled Midway and Ellison with every leg. Matthew Snyder, Mason Sanders, Damon Tran, and Derek Tran were the relay Tigers for the event. At end of the first leg, Ellison (26.58 leg) led, Belton was second (27.36), and Midway was third (28.01). At the end of the second leg, Belton (29.12 leg) led, followed by Midway (29.07), and Ellison (33.72). Ellison closed the gap (24.38 leg), with Belton (26.40) and Midway (26.41) still in the lead. But the Panthers eeked out the win with a 22.54 leg and 1:46.03 finish. The Tigers had a 23.87 final leg and finished with a 1:46.75 time, .72 behind Midway. Ellison had a final leg of 23.58 and finished with a 1:48.26.
Girls 200-yard Free: Lancaster, first place, 1:59.00, Savannah Upton, fifth place, 2:18.84, and Isabel Jennings, seventh place, 2:21.77.
Lancaster claimed her first individual medal of the meet with a 5.40-second win over Midway’s Bea McCormick. The New Tech junior got off to a big start with a 26.92 opening leg and had a 2.09-second lead on the field. Lancaster continued to open the margin. Upton and Jennings had strong swims against six of the district’s best.

Boys 200-yard Free: Ethan Rodriguez, second place, 2:00.04, and Matthew Moyer, eighth place, 2:12.12.

Rodriguez and Moyer competed against a Midway-heavy field in the 200 Free. The Panthers’ Patrick Quinn had a solid jump off of the platform and was able to open up an early 1.26-second lead on Rodriguez and Midway’s Minsoo Kang. Quinn and Kang led most of the race before Rodriguez’s 30.96-second final leg nudged out Kang by .78. Quinn won the race by 7.69. Moyer had a tough start and was outstretched at the finish by Midway’s Blake Singleterry.
“Ethan (Rodriguez) opened our eyes yesterday by shedding seven seconds off of his 200 Free time,” Henry said of Rodriguez’s improvement in the prelims from 2:09.32 to 2:02.48. “That’s a quantum leap. You go from 2:09 to 2:07 to 2:05. But from 2:09 to 2:02…whoa! We told him that if you’re going to break two minutes, this is how you do it. He ended up with 2:00.04. It was a gutsy, gutsy swim.”

Girls 200-yard IM: Ferguson, first place, 2:14.27, Kaci Moore, fourth place, 2:24.16, and Kristin Rodak, fifth place, 2:28.42.

In another race that was Belton and Midway heavy, it was the sophomore Ferguson that steamed away from the field early. She got an excellent push early and opened up a 3.49-second advantage on Midway’s Genevieve Biberdorf, while Moore and Rodak held off the remainder of the field for most of the race. Ferguson finished the race with a 5.16-second margin over Biberdorf. Moore and Rodak finished right behind Midway’s Isabelle Lho.

Boys 200-yard IM: Sanders, first place, 2:09.85, and Jackson Reasoner, second place, 2:10.57.

In a gem of a race, it was just after the second led where the Tigers duo really had an excellent duel. Sanders led Reasoner after the first leg by 1.12 and widened the lead to 2.92 at the halfway point. Reasoner found a higher gear and took the lead at the end of the third leg by .81. Sanders managed to reclaim the lead after the final turn to win the event by .72. The pair finished 8.23 seconds ahead of Midway’s Ulises Cruz Mancinas.

Girls 50-yard Free: Kaitlyn Kunz, third place, 26.20, and Maddie Angell, tied for fourth place with Midway’s Hailey McDonald, 26.67.

In a finals event that spanned .72 between the champion and the fourth-place tie, the stretch to the finish was the most important part of this race. Midway claimed the top two spots with Juliana Wiehardt (25.95) and Erika Neal (26.00) just nipping Kunz (26.20). McDonald and Angell hit the platform at the same time for the fourth-place tie.

50-yard Free: Damon Tran, seventh place, 24.70, and Derek Tran, eighth place, 25.09.

In most races, the times the Tran twins posted would have competitive. And they still were. However, Ellison’s Jalen Piper was on a whole different level for the entire meet. His 22.53 captured the district crown, with Midway’s Minh Nguyen just behind with a time of 23.18. The time separation from third place to eighth place was 1.66.

100-yard Fly: Maddux, first place, school-record 58.56, Ferguson, second place, 59.16, and Planz, third place, 1:00.38.

The Belton trio electrified the crowd on Friday in the Fly and Saturday was certainly no different. They had solid leaps off of the platform, with Maddux earning a 26.90 first leg. Ferguson was a split second behind (27.78), as was Planz (28.05). Maddux pulled in with a 58.56, which shadowed her new standard on Friday by .31. Ferguson was second, just .60 behind and Planz was third by 1.86. Maddux finished 10.12 seconds ahead of Midway’s Jadie Petersen (1:08.68).
“The girls have worked so hard throughout the year and we knew that this was coming for awhile,” Henry said. “Olivia (Maddux) has worked so hard and had the potential to do what she did. The same with Liana (Planz), and the same with Jaynie (Ferguson). I have told many people many times that any one of the three could break the (100 Fly) record at any time. I didn’t realize that all of them would do it at the same time. I had never been in a situation where I had three swimmers go under the same record at the same meet. They race each other every day and it’s such a positive racing environment. This is just the beginning.”

Boys 100-yard Fly: Rodriguez, third place, 57.75, and Sanders, fourth place, 58.53.

Between Piper and Harker Heights’ Timothy Brooks, Belton swimmers had to take their points where they could get them. Piper (52.86) and Brooks (53.25) were the two leaders throughout and out swam the field. The big race was between Rodriguez, Sanders, and Copperas Cove’s Justin Green for third through fifth. Green led at the end of the first leg with a 27.35, with Rodriguez (27.56) and Sanders (27.74) nipping at the AquaDawg’s heels. But Rodriguez’s 30.19 final lap earned him the .72 win over Sanders (30.79 final leg) and Green (31.44 final leg).

Girls 100-yard Free: Kunz, first place, 56.39, and Angell, fourth place, 57.91.

In arguably one of the closest 100-yard races on either side, the time between Kunz, Neal, Wiehardt, and Angell was 1.52. Kunz got an excellent push off of the platform and got a .74 advantage over Neal early. Angell was third, in front of Wiehardt by .23. Kunz was able to hold off Neal (56.66) for the top spot by .27 and Wiehardt (57.64) passed up Angell for the third spot by .27.

Boys 100-yard Fly: Snyder, second place, 51.49, and Caleb Ball, sixth place, 56.51.

The boys 100 Fly was almost a tight as the girls’ race was, with a whole one second separating Nguyen, Snyder, and Midway’s JT Sword. Snyder’s first leg of 24.47 was .03 ahead of Nguyen and Sword, and .38 ahead of Ellison’s Jensen Rodriguez Pica. Nguyen’s reach at the end of the race put him ahead of Snyder by .40 and one second ahead of Sword. Ball fought off a pair of Panthers to finish in sixth.

Girls 500-yard Free: Lancaster, first place, 5:15.19, Madeline Vacula, second place, 5:27.08, Baggerly, third place, 5:32.80, and Kristen Rodak, sixth place, 5:54.26.

Belton had the top four times of the preliminaries and was pushed by the Harker Heights’ 500 combo of Carly Bratton and Zoey Bratton. Lancaster got the best push of the top six swimmers at the start, with a first leg of 27.78, which was the best leg of the race. She took the race, just under 12 seconds better than Vacula and nearly 18 seconds over Baggerly. The Bratton’s and Rodak had a huge duel to the finish, with Carly (5:53.16) nipping Zoey (5:53.56) and Rodak (5:54.26) at the finish.

Boys 500-yard Free: Jack Simeroth, fourth place, 5:44.47, Moyer, fifth place, 5:532.50, and Jacob Peebles, seventh place, 6:06.44.

Brooks dominated the event for the Knights from start to finish to win with a time of 5:14.10. Simeroth challenged Midway’s Mark Gibel with two excellent final laps, but finished 1.89 behind the Panthers’ senior. Peebles, a JV swimmer at the start of the year, certainly earned his Tiger stripes in holding off Midway’s Coby Canale by 2.45 seconds.

Girls 200-yard Free Relay: Belton, first place, 1:43.55.

The relay group of Maddux, Angell, Planz, and Kunz simply dominated the field again in the 200 Free. They got off to a 2.18 opening-leg lead on Midway and 2.88 lead on Ellison. The Lady Eagles fell off the pace, while the Pantherettes continued to chase down the Lady Tigers. Belton would not be denied, as they won the event by 7.03 seconds over Midway and 11.12 seconds over Ellison.

Boys 200-yard Free Relay: Belton, fifth place, 1:41.78.

It’s hard to beat teams that can bookend times of 23.34 and 23.25 in a 200-yard Free Relay event. That is exactly what Ellison did to capture the race. They led Temple, Midway, Shoemaker, Belton, and Harker Heights from buzzer to touch, leaving the five schools to battle for second through sixth throughout. In a finish that spanned 1.98 between them, the Wildcats (1:39.81) finished second, followed by Midway (1:40.79), Shoemaker (1:41.17), Belton (1:41.78), and Harker Heights (1:41.79).

Girls 100-yard Backstroke: Maddux, first place, 59.84, Planz, second place, 1:03.57, and Vacula, third place, 1:05.59.

In a race that contained four Pantherettes, three Lady Tigers, and TemCat swimmer Lauren Greenfield, Belton looked to continue to dominate the standings. Maddux continued her tear with a sub-minute finish (59.84). Planz and Vacula held off the other five swimmers to give the Lady Tigers all three spots on the medal stand to all but clinch the district title. But with three events remaining, the question would be by how much.

Boys 100-yard Backstroke: Snyder, second place, 58.26.

In different events, competitors always have a rival. Snyder’s rival in this meet was Midway’s Quinn. The Panther had a good push off of the wall at the midpoint of the first leg and took a .74 lead over Snyder. He held off the Tigers’ freshman for a 1.45 win. Snyder finished 1.19 over Ellison’s Tyler Norrie and 1.62 over Copperas Cove’s Robert Lippert.

Girls 100-yard Breast: Baggerly, first place, 1:08.50, Moore, second place, 1:09.84, Caroline Moehlenbrock, fourth place, 1:15.88, and Madison Dang, sixth place, 1:20.19.

Baggerly quietly continued to compile a solid meet, both individually and to the team’s point-total. She and Moore battled mightily, as she opened a 1.38 lead after the first leg. The pair closed out the race in strong fashion. Moehlenbrock and Biberdorf battled it out for third place, with Biberdorf having gained the edge by 2.47. The freshman Dang was able to hold off a pair of swimmers to secure sixth place.

Boys 100-yard Breast: Damon Tran, first place, 1:04.21, Derek Tran, second place, 1:06.04, Reasoner, fourth place, 1:07.64, and Peebles, eighth place, 1:18.61.

Damon had a big boost off of the platform to start the race and held a 1.16 advantage over Derek through the first leg, and Reasoner in fifth place. Damon was able to hold on for the win, with Tran finishing in second. Reasoner was able to take fourth place, just .85 behind Harker Heights’ Conner Strait.

Girls 400-yard Relay: Belton, first place, 3:46.20.

The law firm of Lancaster, Planz, Ferguson, and Kunz dropped the red-and-white Tiger-striped gavel on the girls division of the meet with 5.08-second win over the Panthererettes. All four swimmers sub-57 second legs, ranging from 26.34 to 56.99.

Boys 400-yard Relay: Belton, second place, 3:34.32.

The Tigers needed a big win and some help in the final event of the meet. While their legs ranged from 51.95 to 54.67, it was not enough to overcome the Panthers’ range of 50.51 to 55.01. Midway won the event with a time of 3:31.06, with Tigers having finished second by a margin of 3.26. Temple finished in third (3:46.13).

Girls final standings: 1) Belton, 204.5, 2) Waco Midway, 142.5, 3) Ellison, 48, 4) Harker Heights, 47, 5) Killeen, 32, 6) Temple, 18, 7) Copperas Cove, 17, and 8) Shoemaker, 16.
Girls Swimmer of the Meet: Olivia Maddux, Belton.
Girls Coach of the Meet: Patrick Henry, Belton.
Boys final standings: 1) Waco Midway, 131, 2) Belton, 124, 3) Ellison, 83, 4) Temple, 45, 5) Shoemaker, 41, 6) Harker Heights, 36, 7) Copperas Cove, 33, and 8) Killeen, 32.
Boys Swimmer of the Meet: Jalen Piper, Ellison.
Boys Coach of the Meet: Three-way tie-Henry, Midway’s Dan Marlin, and Ellison’s Kate Patterson.
“The boys continue to get better all of the time,” Henry said. “They went up against the tough teams of the Midway and Ellison. All sorts of kids that were on JV last year that are coming up and being developed. That’s the fun part.”

The addition of Kimmy Phillips to Henry’s staff to help out assistant coach John Baltzell last summer has been a game-changer for the program
“I have known her since she was 14,” Henry said. “I wasn’t her high school coach, but she swam in high school and swam club for me. I watched her develop and helped her. She’s been dynamite. She wanted to come to Belton and we wanted her here, so it was a great fit. She was an NCAA qualifier in the mile and we gave her the distance group during the Christmas break. She did some phenomenal things with them, as was displayed today in the 500. I had her give out the awards in the 500 because she trained them. I couldn’t have picked a better person, coach, or teacher. She is a phenomenal at all of them. She’s so good with the kids.”
The top six finishers in each event qualified for the regional meet. All three relays teams on the girls and boys sides qualified for the regionals. The Tigers had a total 36 individual swims regionally qualified (23 girls, 13 boys), with 14 swimmers turning in two individually qualifying swims each, The regional meet will be held in Mansfield on February 1-2.
“It is a very deep, deep regional event,” Henry said. “There is no top-heavy event, but the events are so hard to get into final eight because it is so fast. That’s the nature of the beast. We’ll go up there, excited to go to Mansfield and have been up there twice already. The coaches up there are great friends of ours and we love going up to their facility. We’re going to go line them up and have some fun.”