AURORA | Natalie Rotondo knew she celebrated a little too much, but she let loose in her last Smoky Hill Invitational Jan. 13.
The Smoky Hill senior — who carved the letters “S” and “H” into her hair in special tribute — won the 200 yard freestyle at the meet for the third year in a row and was one of the driving forces behind the host Buffs’ second-place finish behind loaded Heritage.
Rotondo bid adieu to her time at the venerable meet in style and splashed her fist in the water repeatedly to celebrate her nearly half-second victory over Douglas County’s Maggie Kroening.
“I was so happy after that race; I think Scott (Cohen) was a little upset that I kept celebrating, but I had to get it out,” she said. “I was just so happy to get it three years in a row, it’s one of the best feelings ever to do that.
“I saw the girls in Lane 5 creeping up on me and I thought ‘I know you’re dying, but keep going, you’re fine.’”
Rotondo won the 200 freestyle in 1 minute, 56.24 seconds, which bettered her winning times from 2017 (1:56.64) and 2016 (1:56.99), while she also took third in the 100 butterfly for a third straight season as well.
A veteran club swimmer, Rotondo relished every moment of her time in the pool and on deck, which included an impromptu dance party before the finals of the meet-closing 400 yard freestyle relay.
“I’m going to miss this,” she said reflectively. “High school swimming is so much more fun than in club. I feel like the energy here is better than Coaches (Invitational at VMAC) just because everything is so amplified in here and everybody is just together.
“It’s an amazing feeling.”
Senior Brieyana Walton also enjoyed her final Smoky Hill Invitational with a performance highlighted by her 1-2 finish behind sophomore teammate Maggie Robben in the 100 breaststroke.
Walton — who also finished eighth in the 50 freestyle — also got an extra lift from the energy of the meet to vastly improve on her junior year, when she didn’t swim in a single championship final.
“I just tried to go out and swim my best, especially in this meet because it’s so much fun,” Walton said. “I love the atmosphere and try to take advantage of that.”
Robben has gotten off to a great start in cementing her own career legacy at the Smoky Hill Invite, as in two seasons she has a pair of championships in the 200 individual medley and now one in the 100 breaststroke.
Not only did she accomplish her goal of swimming a 1:06 in the breaststroke (1:06.91), she shattered her aim for the 2oo IM. Robben hoped to break the 2:13 mark and did so in grand fashion with a 2:10.33 to win the race by nearly two seconds.
Still, her favorite race came in the breaststroke when she raced side-by-side with Walton for a big 1-2 finish.
“I was so happy in prelims when she got second, so I knew we were going to swimming next to each other,” Robben said. “When you go off the walls you can tell where she is and that always push es you harder.”
Though his team competed for just the second time in the past month after winter break, Cohen was thoroughly pleased.
His Buffs finished second behind Heritage at the meet for the fourth straight season, but finished 101 points back last year and had been no closer than 63 points in that span. This time, the margin was just 28 between Smoky Hill’s 410 and the Eagles’ 428.
Heritage is No. 3 in the latest Class 4A rankings compiled by PrepSwimCo.com, while Smoky Hill is currently 11th in 5A.
“I thought we swam amazing for where we seeded,” Cohen said. “For us to be that close to heritage, I think was pretty impressive. They were supposed to beat us by well over 100 points, so we really outswam ourselves all day long.”
Smoky Hill wasn’t the only local team to have success at the meet, as Cherokee Trail and Eaglecrest placed fourth and 10th, respectively.
The Cougars finished a spot lower than in 2016, but coach Kevin Chatham’s Cougars did some big things right from the start.
The 200 medley relay team of juniors Meghan Mai and Caitlyn Agee-Keys and sophomores Paige Hickman and Sarah Torline turned in a time of 1:53.42 to finish fifth in a fast championship final heat. It was more than two seconds faster than last season at the same meet and established a team record in the process.
Junior Maddie Wilson did some major time dropping of her own in the 200 freestyle. She was seventh in a time of 2:04.87 in 2017, but rocketed to third this season in 2:00.94. Senior diver Christie Yee placed third, one spot behind Smoky Hill’s Jaclyn Santiago for tops among locals in the competition.
Eaglecrest scored 34 more points and improved three spots in the team standings over 2017.
Junior Amber Smith’s seventh in diving and junior Kim Nguyen’s ninth in the 50 freestyle led the way for coach Jillian Fehringer’s Raptors.
Courtney Oakes is Aurora Sentinel Sports Editor. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. FB: Aurora Prep Sentinel
27TH SMOKY HILL GIRLS SWIMMING INVITATIONAL RESULTS
Jan. 13, 2018, at Smoky Hill High School
Team scores: 1. Heritage 438 points; 2. SMOKY HILL 410; 3. Douglas County Co-op 299; 4. CHEROKEE TRAIL 288; 5. Mullen 286; 6. Chatfield 274; 7. George Washington 268; 8. Legend 249; 9. Liberty 231; 10. EAGLECREST 99; 11. Chaparral 87; 12. SMOKY HILL RED 56; 13. Ponderosa 46; 14. Denver South 38; 15. SMOKY HILL GREEN 34
Full meet results, here