THORNTON — If the last two minutes of Friday's prelims were any indication, the Class 4A boys swim and dive finals are going to be a treat.
It was equivalent to a thrilling overtime in basketball, sudden death in hockey. Just much rarer.
A tie in times in the last individual event of the night forced a swim-off: A head-to-head matchup between Littleton senior Theodore Jensen and Cheyenne Mountain freshman Sheridan Harder closed out the night.
In the 100-yard breaststroke, only 30 minutes prior, the two finished at 1:03:55, the eighth-place time. When they raced again with empty lanes to their left and right, Jensen finished in 1:02:42, Harder at 1:02:49. Seven hundredths of a second gave Jensen the last qualifying spot in finals.
"It was just so cool to even be in a swim-off, to be in the energy of it all," Jensen said. "I thought I had a good time in the first race and when my coach came over and told me I needed to do a second race, I thought, 'This will be rough.' I was really nervous prior to and during the first 50 yards. But in the last 50, I just stopped caring about my arms hurting and went as hard as I could."
Jensen will swim his last high school breast stroke in the finals Saturday.
Two brothers, Thompson Valley junior Liam Gately and sophomore Lukas Gately, will swim against one another in the 500-yard free final on Saturday. The elder took first place in 2015. Tonight he placed fourth, while his brother made the cut at eighth.
Two freshman finished top in their events this evening: Montrose's Ryan King in the 500-yard freestyle and Air Academy's Griffin Ayotte in the 200-yard free. King and Ayotte will swim in both races tomorrow, with a chance to place in either.
The more seasoned Air Academy swimmer, senior Tommy Baker, qualified first in his two events. He currently holds the season record for the 50- and 100-yard freestyle, both of which he beat tonight. Baker opted out of the 200-yard this time around, the event he won last year.
Saturday won't be an easy feat, though, as Denver South junior Keegan Bundy placed second in both events, right behind Baker. Baker's season best in the 100-yard prior to the prelims was 45:91, while Bundy's was 45:92.
"There are so many fast guys out here. Keegan and I are good friends, he's a fast kid and he pushes me," Baker said. "It's good competition and it's going to be close tomorrow. When I come back tomorrow I just hope the excitement of the finals carries me there to the win."
Last season, Baker finished third in the 100-yard freestyle, while Bundy missed the podium by one spot in the 50-yard freestyle.
Cheyenne Mountain finished Friday night with 10 qualifying places from eight different swimmers, while Air Academy had six. Cheyenne took first in two of the three relays and Air Academy grabbed the number one spot the 400-yard freestyle relay.
A year ago, Cheyenne Mountain claimed the championship, knocking off three-time champ Air Academy. Baker, Ayotte and the rest of their team plan to finish like they did in 2012, 2013, 2014: in first place, with Baker trying for his third team victory in his high school career.