Park Hill’s reason for optimism seems obvious. Last season, all of the Trojans’ qualifiers for the Missouri State Swimming and Diving Championships were underclassmen.
Not all of the swimmers contributing to four all-state or honorable mention all-state performances came back, but Park Hill finished 17th in the team standings. With the state’s split into two classifications, the Trojans will still be paired with the largest schools in the postseason, but there could be more opportunities for state qualifiers with the new system.
“We’ve got a good group coming back and have a lot of new faces which is always good for the future for just building the program,” Park Hill coach Karl Haley said. “The division in state meets is going to allow us more opportunities for girls who are good swimmers but couldn’t make those cuts last year so it adds a little more excitement to the year.”
Park Hill senior Nani Welsh enters the season off of personal records in the 100-yard and 200-yard freestyles from last year’s state prelims. She finished seventh in the 100 and eighth in the 200.
A three-year standout, Welsh already has 11 top-16 finishes in her career, and she just missed the school record in the 200 freestyle with her state prelim showing — coming up .01 of a second short.
Welsh also swam on both of Park Hill’s honorable mention all-state relays — the 200 and 400 freestyle teams.
The 400 freestyle team of Welsh, senior Sophia Lane and juniors Abigail Culp and Brooklyn Pierce came in 13th, while the 200 freestyle quartet of Welsh, Lane, Pierce and junior Ariana Wharton-Walker was 14th in the consolation finals. In addition, sophomore Emma Will (100 backstroke), Pierce (100 butterfly) and Lane (100 butterfly) were also individual qualifiers. Pierce and Lane did not return to the team.
With no seniors at state last year, Haley believes the upperclassmen can develop into true leaders this season.
“It’s something that has kind of been lacking the last few years. Hopefully, we can improve on that,” he said. “We’d like to get as many people qualified for state and compete at the state level.”