THORNTON — New faces and new teams dotted the deck at the Veterans Memorial Aquatics Center on Friday morning during the Class 3A girls swimming and diving state preliminaries.
It marked the start of the first-ever championship meet in the classification, which was added, in part, to create more participation opportunities in the sport for girls.
Well, that worked.
Roughly 54 percent of participants in this year's state meet didn't participate at state last season. Two schools, Moffat County and Northfield, were represented after not sending a swimmer to last year's state meet.
"This is great now," said Kent Denver coach Craig Petersen, who saw his team qualify nine to the state meet — up from an average of three or four per year. "It's great for the girls, it gives them some confidence, and it's just so much more fun now for the kids."
"It's huge," added Longmont coach Kelly Shipley, whose team also added a significant number of qualifiers this season. "It gives girls more opportunities to make it at the state level."
It also has changed the meet in terms of competition as the enrollment gap has shrunk. Now, the top-end of the class is 1,234, spanning 42 schools. Last season, the cap was 1,410 — but that spanned 70 schools.
"This is so great for these girls. We've been trying to get this 3A classification going for years," said Petersen, who credited Ron Johns — the Chatfield coach, coaches association president and state meet director — for his role in advocating for a third classification. "It hasn't been right from the standpoint of schools. We had to compete at essentially a 4-to-1 ratio against some of these bigger schools. But this is huge. I couldn't be happier for my girls."
On Friday, St. Mary's Academy senior Alex Reddington stood out in the prelims.
She ended the session with the top qualifying time in the 200 freestyle (1:52.93) and the 100 butterfly (56.35) — which wasn't too surprising considering she won both events at the 4A state meet last season.
But Reddington also helped her team qualify second in the 200 medley relay, and anchored the Wildcats' 400 freestyle relay that posted the top time of the round (3:41.79).
"It went really well," Redding said of the prelims. "I posted some times I'm pretty proud of. I'm excited for tomorrow. It felt really good."
Reddington added that while 3A was "a little less competition," she liked the new class because "we were able to bring another relay here, we had a few more individual swimmers."
"That is great," Reddington said.
Aspen, the top-ranked team heading into the state meet, also had a number of girls who stood out.
Sophomore Davy Brown qualified first in both the 200 individual medley and the 100 backstroke. Senior Kennidy Quist was first in the 50 free and second in the 100 free.
The team also qualified first in the 200 medley relay and second in the 400 freestyle. Both relays included Brown and Quist.
Pueblo County notched the top time in the 200 freestyle relay, finishing in 1:42.67. That group included Amanda Blickensderfer, who also qualified first in the 100 breaststroke.
The 3A finals are Saturday at VMAC. Races begin at 2:30 p.m.