Kevin Chatham hates heights, but his Cherokee Trail girls swim team keeps making him get on a ladder.
Each time the Cougars set a team record — a very regular occurrence during their outstanding season — their longtime coach has to face his fears to climb up and mark the milestone on the board that sits high above the pool.
“I think they break records just so I have to get up on the ladder,” Chatham said wryly after Cherokee Trail broke five team marks at the Smoky Hill Invitational Jan. 11.
“They always say ‘Coach, your knees are shaking!’ and it’s because I’m terrified!”
While certainly wanting their coach to stay safe, Cherokee Trail swimmers unabashedly say that making him change the recordboard drives them to new heights of their own.
The ceremony that takes place at practice is thoroughly entertaining.
“It’s a huge motivation for us,” senior sprint standout Sarah Torline said. “He (Chatham) is always scared and you can see him shaking every time he has to bring out the ladder. …He makes it a big ordeal.”
The Cougars easily take the most pleasure in making Chatham replace the record board for the 200 yard medley relay, which happens to be at the very tippy top.
They’ve broken it at least three times this season, most recently at the Smoky Hill Invitational, when Torline, junior Kiyah Dotson, sophomore Skylar Brgoch and freshman Morgan Walker swam a time of 1 minute, 52.26 seconds, in prelims.
For the second week in a row, that medley time ranks 14th in 5A according to the new set of rankings compiled by PrepSwimCo.com as of Jan. 21 (here).
“We always shoot for the highest ones on the board,” Brgoch said with a smile.
The biggest scourges to Chatham’s fear of heights are Torline, Brgoch and Walker, who have each made him put their names on the recordboard at least twice this season.
Brgoch is proud to be on the board in the second-highest spot (the 200 yard freestyle) as well as in her specialty, the 100 yard butterfly. She currently ranks 15th in the butterfly and 16th in the 200 freestyle.
Torline owns two spots in the 50 and 100 freestyles, Walker has the team marks in the 200 individual medley and 100 backstroke and the 200 freestyle relay team of Torline, Brgoch, junior Claire Whitner and sophomore Emily Sovern also are on the board.
Chatham has been glad to climb the ladder (as much as he can be) because it means another accomplishment for this team, which is off to a great start to the season.
The Cougars won the Intrastate 8 meet at Cherry Creek, took 15th at the Rex Abelein Invitational prior to winter break — up from 25th last season — and posted an all-time best third-place finish at one of the fastest Smoky Hill Invitationals in recent history.
“It’s been developing and now they have belief in themselves,” Chatham said. “They aren’t intimidated by swimming anybody at any time. It used to be like ‘Oh my gosh, it’s Cherry Creek,’ but they don’t care who it is anymore.
“They embrace the chance to race somebody fast and get their hand on the wall first.”
Cherokee Trail still struggles for full recognition of its growth, as was the case Jan. 14 when traditional Centennial League powerhouse Arapahoe chose not to send its varsity swimmers to face the Cougars in a dual meet as it prepared for Cherry Creek.
The lessened competition helped the Cougars retain a sense of fun as they honored 14 seniors, but didn’t provide the push of intense racing that could have helped some of its fringe state qualifiers over the top.
Still, Cherokee Trail is qualified for state in every event and has top-15 state aspirations, though ranked No. 19 now. The program’s highest state finish was 20th in 2017.
The longest standing record on the Cherokee Trail board is in one of the lowest slots, as Melissa Phelps has the standard in the 100 yard breaststroke of 1 minute, 8.47 seconds, that has been around since 2008.
That time put her fourth at the 4A state meet, which remains the highest individual or relay finish in program history. Cherokee Trail moved up to 5A in 2010.
Courtney Oakes is Sentinel Colorado Sports Editor. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. IG: Sentinel Prep Sports
CHEROKEE TRAIL GIRLS SWIMMING RECORDS (through Jan. 14, 2020)
200 yard medley relay — Morgan Walker, Kiyah Dotson, Skylar Brgoch, Sarah Torline, 1 minute, 52.26 seconds (2020)
200 yard freestyle — Skylar Brgoch, 1 minute, 58.06 seconds (2020)
200 yard individual medley — Morgan Walker, 2 minutes, 15.76 seconds (2020)
50 yard freestyle — Sarah Torline, 24.89 seconds (2020)
1-meter diving — 6 dives: Christie Yee, 276.05 points (2018), 11 dives: Christie Yee, 447.80 points (2017)
100 yard butterfly — Skylar Brgoch, 58.73 seconds (2020)
100 yard freestyle — Sarah Torline, 54.80 seconds (2020)
500 yard freestyle — Maddie Wilson, 5 minutes, 26.08 seconds (2018)
200 yard freestyle relay — Claire Whitner, Emily Sovern, Sarah Torline, Skylar Brgoch, 1 minute, 41.60 seconds (2020)
100 yard backstroke — Morgan Walker, 1 minute, 0.67 seconds (2020)
100 yard breaststroke — Michelle Phelps, 1 minute, 8.47 seconds (2008)
400 yard freestyle — Maddie Wilson, Sarah Torline, Tatum Louthan, Skylar Brgoch, 3 minutes, 42.21 seconds (2019)