On Saturday, Nov. 23, the New York State Swimming Championships took place at Ithaca College. Representing Tompkins County at the event were several Ithaca High School swimmers and Lansing junior Grace Kadlecik. It was a great day for both, as Ithaca’s relay team finished third in the 200-yard medley and seventh in the 400-yard freestyle, while Kadlecik finished fourth in the 50-yard freestyle and ninth in the 100-yard freestyle.
Along the way, Kadlecik set a Section IV record in the 50-yard preliminaries on Friday with a time of 23.71. The following day, she did even better in the finals, posting a time of 23.56, breaking her own record and coming up just .02 seconds short of All-American consideration. After the event, Kadlecik explained what the difference was in the 24 hours.
“[On Friday], I really wanted to just see where I could go, I wanted to make finals,” Kadlecik said. “Today, it was more about having fun. I really think that helped me go faster.”
Being just a hair short of All-American consideration in her junior year certainly gives Kadlecik something to strive for in 2020.
“It’s incredibly motivating,” Kadlecik said. “I’m really looking forward to trying to get that time and trying to get All-American consideration. I definitely want to work on my turns more and practicing my overall racing ability.”
It was a 15-place improvement from last year to this year for the Lansing junior, as she finished 19th as a sophomore. She credits her improvement to adding training with coach Reed Dewey to her regimen on top of all the work she does with Diane Hicks-Hughes and the Bobcats varsity team.
After a top-five finish as a junior in the state championships, Kadlecik will be one to watch in her final season with Lansing. She had her two best swims of the season when the lights were shining brightest on Saturday, which is a great indication of her mentality moving forward.
Ithaca’s 200-yard medley team consisted of swimmers of all grade levels: senior Gwen Lindberg, junior Willa Royce-Roll, sophomore Elise Nishii-Kim, and freshman Ilah Jefferis. The four swimmers worked together to finish with a time of 1:47.91 in the finals, which was good enough for third place among 44 public schools. The lone senior discussed what was going through her mind as Nishii-Kim swam the final leg of the relay.
“We weren’t leading when Elise went up on the blocks; we were one of the last ones,” Lindberg said. “I don’t think we expected to end up where we were. We were just hoping to get anywhere we could at that point. So, when we saw Elise finish and get her best time, it was one of the best feelings in the world.”
Last year, the Little Red were disqualified in the 200-yard medley in the state championships due to a faulty exchange between two of the swimmers. That gave the team something specific to improve upon, and it paid off greatly.
“This year, we were a lot more aware of who we are when coming into the wall,” Royce-Roll said. “That definitely helped with our timing and making sure we weren’t DQ’d in a competitive year.”
Comfort was a big factor in the team’s success this year too. Jefferis had one year of state championship experience under her belt while the other three swimmers all swam at states for two years.
“This year, especially for me, I knew more of what the meet was about and what was going to happen, whereas last year I was going into the unknown,” Jefferis said. “This year, I thought that it was an experience where we were more comfortable and able to have more fun.”
Another aspect that benefitted the comfort level of the team was the location of the meet. Ithaca College hosts the state championships inside the Athletics and Events Center, so having the biggest race of the year in their hometown is a great help.
“It’s really beneficial because we got to have a good night’s sleep in our own beds,” Lindberg said. “We didn’t have to travel or worry about missing that much school.”
For Lindberg, this was her final season as an Ithaca swimmer. However, it’s comforting for her that the rest of the third-place relay team consisted of underclassmen.
“It feels great to know that after I leave, they’ll still be able to swim fast and still have enough talent on the team to make it to state competition again,” Lindberg said. “I really hope I can come back and watch them in the future.”
What made this year even more special for the Little Red was how they overcame adversity in the beginning of the year. Head coach Roy Staley underwent successful heart surgery and was absent from the team for the first few weeks of the season.
According to the swimmers, this forced the team to dig deep and explore the leadership roles on the team. In the end, it became a unifying experience for the Little Red, resulting in a third-place finish at states.
In Staley’s absence, Amy Zimmermann, a middle school girls lacrosse coach in the Ithaca City School District, temporarily stepped into his role, and the swimmers expressed plenty of gratitude for her contributions to the team this season.
With Lansing’s Grace Kadlecik finishing fourth and the Ithaca relay team placing third, the state championships had great results for Tompkins County. Four of those five swimmers will be back for more next year after standing on the podium for the first time on Saturday.
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