THORNTON — Fossil Ridge is the favorite here at the Class 5A girls swimming state meet. Thursday's preliminaries hammered that fact home.
The SaberCats, who have been ranked No. 1 all throughout the regular season, entered with the top-seeded time in nine of the 11 swimming events. They lived up to expectations at the Veterans Memorial Aquatics Center, closing the preliminaries with a swimmer or relay team leading nine of the 11 events.
- A record-setting performance by junior Zoe Bartel in the 100 breastroke.
- A record-tying time by sophomore Coleen Gillilan in the butterfly.
- The top three qualifying times in the 200 individual medley.
- A dominant showing from Kylee Alons, who holds the top times in two events.
"I think it kind of has a snowball effect," Gillilan said of the team's success. "You start out good, and you're winning, and then that gets other people excited, and they want to win. It just keeps going."
Said Bartel: "We have a highly-competitive group. We're not just a group of swimmers. We're a group of athletes that loves to compete. So anytime we see one of our really good friends go and break a pool record, or have a great time, you're like, 'Oh, I want to do that! I want to do what they did!'
"It's almost like a, 'I don't want to be left out.' But it's also, 'I want to participate. I want to be a part of this.'"
Bartel shattered her previous state record of 1:01.88 — set earlier this season — with a 1:00.39 in the breastroke.
"She is so talented. She's a nationally-ranked swimmer," said Fossil Ridge coach Carolyn Fries. "She's one of the hardest workers on our team — on a fast team. She's outstanding."
Gillilan tied a state record in the 100 butterfly, matching the time of 53.22 swam by former SaberCat Bailey Nero in 2015.
"I was just hoping to make it back," said Gillilan, who won the 100 fly at the state meet last season and placed second in the 50 free. "It just made me so much more hyper and excited for my next races."
Alons, a Fossil Ridge junior, qualified first in both the 50 and 100 freestyle races. Her preliminary time in the 50 was 0.23 away from Missy Franklin's record of 22.41.
The 200 IM was a microcosm of the prelims: Fossil Ridge's Bartel, senior Bailey Kovac, and junior Bayley Stewart qualified 1-2-3 in the event. Bartel shaved more than four seconds off her seed time to finish in 2:02.44.
Stewart and Kovac also qualified first and second, respectively, in the 100 backstroke.
The 200 medley relay, which opened the meet, saw the SaberCats finish in 1:42.53. They own the top time by more than three seconds — and they can go faster. Fossil Ridge's seed time was 1:42.39.
Fossil Ridge finished third at last season's 5A state meet, a year after winning the title. Another championship, which would be the program's third, is now in their sights.
"We'll try to keep them excited. We're going to chase a couple more state records," Fries said. "They've been waiting for this since last year."
But the day didn't belong to the SaberCats alone.
Fairview senior Brittney Beetcher qualified first in both the 200 and 500 freestyle races. She went 1:51.88 in the 200, and 4:59.47 in the 500.
Beetcher won both events last season after finishing second in both as a sophomore.
After the first day of diving, Douglas County's Lexie Barker led the field. The Ohio State-bound senior had an eight-round semifinal total of 346.85, heading Arapahoe's Franny Cable (332.45) and Cherry Creek's Sydney Fulton (322.40).
Barker finished third at the state meet last season, and 23rd as a sophomore, when she didn't qualify for semifinals.
Thursday, she had the top total of the prelims at 218.90, and extended her lead in the semifinals.
"It's where I hoped to be," Barker said. "I didn't know how this year was going to go. My first year, I didn't even make the cut. And then last year, I think I got third, so this year, I was thinking, 'As long as I make podium, I'm good.'
"I'm feeling pretty confident" heading into finals, she added.
Finals for both swimming and diving begin at 4 p.m. on Friday. Prior to that, the first-ever 3A state meet will begin prelims at 10:30 a.m.