Great Bend's Western Athletic Conference champions Emilee Hall (500 freestyle) and Ruth Williams (100 butterfly) earned first-team All-WAC swimming honors. The Panthers finished runner-up to Garden City in the WAC swimming meet.
Earning second team were Zoe Jerke, 200 free, 100 backstroke; Ellyson Somers, 100 breaststroke; Emilee Hall, 200 IM; the 200 free relay (Jerke, Somers, Aubrey Snapp, Hall); the 400 free relay (Hall, Williams, Jerke, Snapp) and the 200 medley relay (Reggie Huslig, Somers, Williams, Katelyn Mermis)
BY BRETT MARSHALL
GARDEN CITY — When she arrived at her home Garden City Family YMCA pool on May 13 for the 2021 Western Athletic Conference swimming championship, senior Ashleigh Chappel was focused on one goal for her last competitive event at home.
She wanted to capture the WAC team championship and end a nearly two-decade dominance by rival Great Bend. No individual awards were in her thoughts as the meet got under way. Two hours later, Chappel and her mostly underclass teammates had not only captured their first WAC team title since 2002, but she had won two individual freestyle sprints (50 and 100-yards) and swam on two winning relays (200- and 400-yard freestyles). And to top it off, she was voted by the league’s coaches as the 2021 WAC Girls Swimmer of the Year.
What a way to cap off her final season as a high school swimmer. A big reward for persevering and deciding to compete her senior year after missing her junior campaign due to the COVID-19 pandemic that had cancelled all spring sports in Kansas.
“Going into the meet, I wasn’t even thinking that it was a possibility,” said Chappel whose younger sister Paige is one of many talented underclass teammates. “I was just trying to swim for my team. Then, later on, someone said I might get the WAC award, and I said, ‘No way!’ This means a lot to me because I got to swim this year with my sister and some other talented younger swimmers who will be the next group to carry on with the program.”
Like so many high school athletes in this spring of 2021, Chappel had a major adjustment both physically and psychologically to prepare for the competition after missing that experience a year prior.
“It was definitely hard to miss last season,” Chappel said. “But when we had our first meet in Salina, I was able to get into the rhythm and I knew our team could be better. We got stronger, but the big key was being able to translate our breathing in the water and early that took a toll. We worked on our turns and starts and focused on out-touching the person next to us.”
Of the two short individual races, Chappel said during her freshman and sophomore seasons, she favored the 50, but has transitioned into liking the longer 100 event.
“The 50 is a no-brainer, you don’t really breathe,” Chappel said. “The 100 is now a full-on sprint, too. You have four, 25-yarders and you have to plan every single breath. Less breaths is better but you have to take those at just the right times.”
Chappel said the final 25 yards is simply a race to the finish line.
“It’s so chaotic in your brain,” she said. “I can see to my side, but I just put my head down and go. There’s no breath at the end. I just have to out-touch them, or catch them.”
With that two-year gap in competition, Chappel said the preseason conditioning was difficult.
“Everything was just a big adjustment and I had to scratch my brain to really remember all the things of training and then competing,” she said.
Chappel and Mya Garcia were the only seniors on this year’s Lady AquaBuffs. The majority of their teammates were freshmen and sophomores, including her sophomore sister Paige.
“My ‘little sister’ taught me as much I taught her,” Ashleigh said. “I just tried to make sure everyone does their best at practice and at the meets.”
The only way she could describe this season’s experience as simply, “it was insane. We proved we could do a lot of things to be success and winning the WAC was the final proof of that.”
Chappel said she could remember and give credit to those members of previous girls swimming teams who had mentored her, and she was grateful to have that same opportunity in 2021.
“Their work years ago paid off and inspired me and I tried to do the same thing for the younger swimmers,” Chappel said. “It’s now their turn to take it from here and make it even better.”
With graduation just days away, Chappel said her college plans were to attend Kansas State University with a major in biology on the horizon. Eventually, she wants to go to dental school and become an orthodontist.
While missing a season of sports in 2020, it was just as difficult in missing the classroom in the spring and then the fall semester.
“It was a struggle to get school work done,” Chappel said. “Before, I’d get everything done with work at school and home was relaxed and fun. It was a big shift in how to get things done. I’d just put it off and get it done later, and that wasn’t a good plan. I was so happy when we were able to get back in the classroom.”
The memories of her senior year will last a lifetime, but she’s now ready to pursue her future.
“I’m excited to see what happens,” she said of her upcoming college days. “Competing has taught me a lot of discipline. It teaches you accountability and that actions pay dividends.”
FIRST TEAM ALL-WAC
GARDEN CITY—Ashleigh Chappel, 50 free; 100 free; 200 free; Lana Rodriguez, 100 backstroke; Avery Meng, 100 breaststroke, 200 IM; Mya Garcia, 100 butterfly; 200 free relay (Meng, Payton Tull, Ashleigh Chappel, Paige Chappel); 400 free relay (Paige Chappel, Rodriguez, Ashleigh Chappel, Meng); 200 medley relay (Rodriguez, Tull, Garcia, Lexi Arwine)
GREAT BEND—Emilee Hall, 500 free; Ruth Williams, 100 butterfly
2021 SWIMMER OF YEAR—Ashleigh Chappel, Garden City
2021 COACH OF YEAR—Jennifer Meng, Garden City
SECOND TEAM ALL-WAC
GARDEN CITY—Payton Tull, 50 free; Paige Chappel, 100 free; Lana Rodriguez, 500 free
GREAT BEND—Zoe Jerke, 200 free, 100 backstroke; Ellyson Somers, 100 breaststroke; Emilee Hall, 200 IM; 200 free relay (Jerke, Somers, Aubrey Snapp, Hall); 400 free relay (Hall, Williams, Jerke, Snapp); 200 medley relay (Reggie Huslig, Somers, Williams, Katelyn Mermis)