When Maggie Robben found out this season’s Class 5A girls state swim meet would be at the Veterans’ Memorial Aquatic Center, her face undoubtedly lit up.
The Thornton venue has been a longtime home to youth club state meets, so there’s a built-in comfort level there for young swimmers such as the Smoky Hill freshman.
Robben is one of 12 freshmen individuals from Aurora programs that will be in the water at the 5A state meet Feb. 9-10, and the familiar surroundings could help that group produce plenty of points in its state meet debut.
“I’ve been at VMAC a lot in the past with my club team, so it will be nice not to have to be in a new pool when you go to state,” Robben said. “Especially for a big meet. When you’ve been there before, you know what to expect and you know how to swim fast there.”
Robben and fellow freshman Blythe Iverson have been a big boon to coach Scott Cohen’s Smoky Hill team this season and figured to play instrumental roles in the Buffaloes’ hopes of finishing in the top 10 of the team standings after a 22nd-place finish last season.
According to pre-state psyche sheets issued Feb. 6, Robben is seeded to score — which requires a top-16 finish — in both the 200 yard individual medley (14th) and 100 breaststroke (11th), while Iverson comes in seeded 13th in her favorite event, the 500 freestyle.
Iverson has high hopes of moving up the five spots it would take to make the championship final in the 500 freestyle and she believes the venue could help that happen.
“It’s probably my favorite pool to swim at,” Iverson said about VMAC. “When I found out state was there, I was like ‘Oh, thank goodness.’”
Cohen has observed the way his youngsters have handled themselves — especially in an intense environment at Arapahoe at the Centennial “A” League Championships Feb. 3-4 — and believes they will rise to the occasion.
Robben won the consolation heat of both the 50 and 100 freestyles, while Iverson was a finalist in the 200 freestyle (which gave her a second state event).
“State isn’t going to be something they can’t handle. In fact, it’s in a setting they are very familiar with,” Cohen said.
“VMAC is where club state has been since they were 10 years old, so I think it will be a new experience, but not something they will be overwhelmed with. Both of them swam well in a crazy, loud setting at the league meet, so it will almost be calmer at state.”
State veteran seniors Jordyn Richey and Jianna Walker and juniors Natalie Rotondo and Brieyana Walton have been vital resources for Iverson and Robben this season and likely will be able to counsel them on deck at state as well.
A third of the Aurora-best state-qualifying contingent of 27 swimmers and divers are freshmen for Regis Jesuit.
Coach Nick Frasersmith knew he had a special group of youngsters coming in and it proved to be true during the regular season.
“I had a feeling and then when we had registration, I was looking through the names and I thought ‘This is going to be fun,’” he said.
Two freshmen in particular — Jada Surrell-Norwood and Jenna Newkirk — have been stalwarts for the Raiders all season. The two are seeded in the top seven in three of their combined four individual events. That could mean big points at the state meet if they finish in those spots or higher.
Surrell-Norwood is No. 6 in the 100 freestyle and No. 7 in the 50 freestyle, while Newkirk is No. 6 in the 500 freestyle, an event which hasn’t always been the strongest for the Raiders.
“I’m super excited, I can’t wait to watch them at state,” Frasersmith said of his freshmen.
“They’ve been so dedicated and worked so hard all season and been such a part of the team. I think they both just like to go out and race.”
The Raiders also feature seven other freshmen who made state cuts, with Parker Biley and Sophia Bradac (Nos. 16 and 18 in the 100 breaststroke, respectively), seeded to potentially score in addition to any freshmen contributions to Regis Jesuit’s three relay teams, all seeded in the top eight.
Aside from the youth, Regis Jesuit has plenty of experience. Seniors Jennae Frederick, Isabella Schultze and Samantha Smith all swam on championship-winning relays last season, while sophomore Meriel Upton swam on two title winners last season as a freshman.
Rangeview has two 5A state qualifiers and the only swimmer is Jasmine Johnson, also a freshman.
Johnson is the first non-diver to make the state meet for coach Peter Gerard’s program since 2010. She is entered in the 200 IM and 100 breaststroke, the latter her favorite event.
Gerard said Johnson also feels comfortable at VMAC, where she has competed in the past, including this season at the Coaches Invite.
Grandview doesn’t have any freshmen among its individual state contingent of eight, but experience could put coach Karen Ammon’s team in the top 10, where the Wolves have ranked just about all season.
Senior Taylor Dirks and junior Simone Cade each grabbed at least one state place last season for Grandview, while sophomore Lyssa Wood is seeded to possibly make the championship finals in both of her events.
Cherokee Trail has state veterans in senior Elma Spahic and junior diver Christie Yee returning, mixed with up-and-coming sophomores Caitlyn Agee-Keys, Meghan Mai and Maddie Wilson as coach Kevin Chatham hopes to make it on the state scoreboard.
Sophomore Kim Nguyen ended Eaglecrest’s drought without a state qualifier and will aim to establish herself in the 50 freestyle.
Courtney Oakes is Aurora Sentinel Sports Editor. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. FB: Aurora Prep Sentinel
AURORA’S CLASS 5A STATE-QUALIFYING FRESHMEN
The 12 freshman qualifiers for the 2017 Class 5A girls state swim meet from Aurora programs with events and where they are seeded in those events going into prelims Feb. 9:
RANGEVIEW — Jasmine Johnson, 200 indiv. medley (28) & 100 breaststroke (43)
REGIS JESUIT — Carly Behrendt, 50 yard freestyle (57); Parker Biley, 200 indiv. medley (25) & 100 breaststroke (16); Sophia Bradac, 100 breaststroke (18); Isalina Colsman, 50 freestyle (51); Ava Leege, 200 indiv. medley (23); Ariana Mitsuoka, 100 breaststroke (39); Manna Nelson, 500 freestyle (36); Jenna Newkirk, 200 indiv. medley (31) & 500 freestyle (6); Jada Surrell-Norwood, 50 freestyle (7) & 100 freestyle (6)
SMOKY HILL — Blythe Iverson, 200 freestyle (29) & 500 freestyle (13); Maggie Robben, 200 indiv. medley (14) & 100 breaststroke (11)
Full list of Aurora’s Class 5A state meet qualifiers by school, here