Park Hill posted back-to-back top-15 finishes in the Missouri State Swimming and Diving Championships but must rebuild behind a talented junior after losing a host of experienced athletes.
In 2015-2016, the Trojans were 13th, coming off an 11th-place showing in 2014-15. There were four state medals won last year, one for now-junior Nani Welsh and three relays. Only one senior, Rebecca Shaw, contributed to the relays but Meg Feeley and Nerissa Wagner are also not on the roster this year after helping earn three state medals.
Welsh, junior Sophia Lane and sophomore Brooklyn Pierce are the only returning all-state swimmers.
“There’s a bunch of new faces and a bunch of new freshmen,” Welsh said. “I’m excited to see them build up and see how we’ll develop as a team so I’m pretty pumped. We lost a bunch of returners from last year, a couple moved and a couple graduated but I think they’ll still do pretty well.”
In 2016, Park Hill posted 18 state cuts including sophomore Devon Hendry in the one-meter diving competition, but she’s also not back.
In addition to the three relays, swimmers with individual state experience include sophomore Abigail Culp (500-yard freestyle), Lane (100 breaststroke) and Welsh (five of eight individual events). Only Welsh advanced out of preliminaries at state, making the consolation final of the 100 freestyle and placing 11th in 53.74 seconds.
Welsh has seven career state medals in two seasons, having placed in the 50 and 100 freestyle as a freshman.
“We’re looking forward to (Welsh and Lane) to kind of lead the way and show the underclassmen with a little less experience,” Park Hill coach Karl Haley said, “and say, ‘This is what we need you to do in order to be able compete at the conference level and state level.’”
Park Hill’s relays were again the strength of Park Hill’s state effort.
Lane, Wagner, Feeley and Pierce were 15th in the 200 medley, while Welsh, Pierce, Feeley and Shaw were fifth in the 200 freestyle. Welsh, Lane, Shaw and Feeley rounded out the three relay medals with a ninth in the 400 freestyle.
Replacing all of the known pieces will prove difficult, and Park Hill also must deal with another transition.
For the first time, the Trojans will be in the Suburban Conference Gold Division, the largest of four tiers in the league, meaning the prelude to the postseason will include a new set of competition.
“I’m not too nervous about it,” Welsh said. “Yeah, it’s going to be more difficult competition but we used to be with Park Hill South and they’re like one of the best teams in Kansas City so now it’s exciting that we’re not going against them every time.”