The Grand County High School Lady Red Devil swimmers trailed North Summit by two points going into the final race of the 2016 Utah State 2A Swimming Championships on Thursday, Feb. 11, at Brigham Young University in Provo. But they went into the 400-yard freestyle relay race with confidence, shattering the previous state record in the race and claiming their first state swimming championship just four years after the GCHS swimming program began.
The quartet of junior Alexa Pierce, junior River Richards, freshman London Richards and freshman Mary Kimmerle broke the state record by more than 5 seconds and beat the second place group from Rowland Hall by more than 17 seconds, swimming a blistering 3:54.50 to finish with 237 points, edging North Summit, which had 229.
“I was pretty excited,” Pierce said. “I knew that if we swam that race like had in the past, we’d have a chance to take first.”
The same four girls started Grand off on the right foot, winning the first race of the meet, the 200-yard
medley relay, with a time of 1:59.87. They came 0.18 seconds away from the state record in that race.
Pierce also brought home individual first place medals in the 200-yard freestyle at 1:59.96 – a new state record – and the 100-yard butterfly at 1:01.75, breaking her own state record. Pierce also owns the state records in the 50-yard freestyle and 100-yard freestyle. She also had the record in the in the 100-yard backstroke, but it was broken on Thursday by Millard’s Drew Roper.
“It’s a pretty cool feeling,” Pierce said of owning five state records. “It makes me hopeful to get other ones or to continue to break my own.”
Kimmerle, a freshman, took first place Thursday in the 100-yard freestyle at 56.46, and second to Roper in the 100-yard backstroke at 1:04.30. Fellow freshman London Richards turned in a pair of second-place individual performances, in the 100-yard butterfly at 1:10.67, and the 100-yard breaststroke at 1:16.94. Junior River Richards was third in the 50-yard freestyle at 27.48, and the 500-yard freestyle at 6:01.67. Junior Kyo Wakabayashi, a foreign exchange student from Japan, placed fifth in the 100-yard butterfly at 1:23.00, and junior Jayelen Knowles placed sixth in the 500-yard freestyle at 6:46.44. Knowles and Wakabayashi joined junior Megan Pfnister and sophomore Brooklin Hugentobler for a third-place finish in the 200-yard freestyle relay at 2:02.22.
“We had a good strong team,” coach Brian Pierce said. “We didn’t quite have the numbers the other teams had, but we had some really strong swims. It was definitely a whole-team effort. We had to have all of them to do it.”
With the exception of Wakabayashi, who is set to return to Japan, Grand figures to return its entire state championship squad as there were no senior girl swimmers. The boys, who finished fourth on Thursday, will lose a trio of seniors in Drake Hackney, River Murdock and Austin Aubry. Hackney and Murdock competed on Thursday, while Aubry, an Academic All-State selection, was there as an alternate after joining the team this season.
Hackney turned in a fourth-place 1:02.20 in the 100-yard butterfly and a fifth-place 24.34 in the 50-yard freestyle, while also competing in two relays. Murdock also competed in the butterfly, placing 12th at 1:16.48, as well as the 200-yard individual medley.
Freshman Braxten Pierce won two individual state championships, swimming the 200-yard freestyle in 1:51.95 – 1.38 seconds from the state record – and the 500-yard freestyle in 5:18.00.
“We watched that race again,” father and coach Brian Pierce said. “We didn’t realize he was that close to the record.”
Sister Alexa said it’s awesome to watch her younger brother swim.
“He’s really good,” she said. “I try to keep up with him in practice, but he’s super fast.”
Hackney and Braxten Pierce, along with juniors Sidney Shumway and Jonathan Park, placed third in the 200-yard freestyle relay at 1:42.51. Hackney, Braxten Pierce, Park and freshman Connor Ainge placed fourth in the 400-yard freestyle relay at 3:49.37. In the 200-yard medley, freshman Corbin Arbon, junior Ethan Clark, freshman Alex Lacy and Jacob Johnston placed fifth at 2:12.81.
Brian Pierce said the boys are young and improving, citing strong gains throughout the year from swimmers like Shumway, Clark, Lacy and Ainge.
As for record-breaking performances, Brian Pierce said the swimmers aren’t really concerned with them, that each swimmer’s goal is to beat their own personal best time at every race throughout the season.
“Throughout the season, we just focus on bettering ourselves each time we get in the pool,” he said.
Lady Red Devils overtake North Summit in final event
“We had a good strong team. We didn’t quite have the numbers the other teams had, but we had some really strong swims. It was definitely a whole-team effort. We had to have all of them to do it.”