THORNTON — Erie's Payten Irwin fully intends on defending her 2019 state championships in the Class 3A 50-yard freestyle and the 100 butterfly.
To do it, she'll have to repeat her performance from a year ago in more ways than one. In both events, Irwin claimed gold but did it from outside the prime starting position of the fifth lane.
Caitlin Cairns from St. Mary's entered the finals with the best time in prelims and that will be the case again this year. Cairns clocked 26.62 seconds in prelims on Thursday to once again take the top seed in the event. Irwin will start in lane six after finishing the race in 24.56 seconds.
It's the same story in the 100 butterfly as Cairns will start the race in lane five with Irwin right next to her lane six. The battle between the Erie and St. Mary's standouts will be a fun storyline to watch when finals begin at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday.
Defending team champion Evergreen reminded everyone why they are the team to beat in the event as the Cougars started the day best all other teams in the 200 medley relay. Remi Gucker took the first leg of that race before coming right back to take the top time in the 200 freestyle at 1:56.84. She won the event last year and is looking to add a second gold medal while also helping the Cougars become the first back-to-back champion in 3A history.
Gucker helped her team take the top spot at the meet's big distance relay races with a time of five minutes, 13.45 seconds in the 500 freestyle relay and 3:42.65 in the 400 freestyle relay.
Salida took a couple of top times through day as Elise Mishmash swam the 100 freestyle in 53.95 seconds. Mishmash won the event last year. She also anchored the 200 freestyle relay team in its top race of 1:42.76.
A neck-and-neck race in the 200 freestyle saw Kent Denver's Jolie Kim touch the wall in 2:13.24, less than a 10th of a second faster than Aspen's Lilly Huggard.
St. Mary's Academy's Sidney Silver will swim in lane four in the 100 backstroke after a prelim time of 55.27. Thomas Jefferson's Caitlin Beery dropped nearly two seconds off her qualifying time in the 100 breaststroke and took the top time in the event at 1:07.51.
The 3A meet will continue first thing Saturday morning with diving prelims . Swimming and diving finals are scheduled for a 3:30 p.m. start at the Veterans Memorial Aquatic Center in Thornton.