It has become an annual rite of February: the Grantsville swim team bringing home multiple individual gold medals from the Class 3A state swim meet.
On Saturday at Brigham Young University, the Cowboys added three more state titles to their ever-growing list. Senior Zane Thomas capped his high-school career with a second consecutive championship in the boys’ 100-yard backstroke, while junior Hadlee Begay won the girls’ 500 freestyle for the third year in a row while adding her first title in the 200 free.
“It means a lot to me,” Thomas said. “It’s the end of my career. I’ve been swimming for seven or eight years, and it’s all come to this — this race, this meet. I never thought I would leave a legacy.”
Thomas was the favorite coming into Saturday’s final — a different feeling from last year, when he surprised even himself by winning the race. He didn’t show any signs that the pressure might have bothered him, as he put together the best 100 back of his life, posting a personal-best time of 56.70 seconds that gave him a 1.57-second advantage over runner-up Luke Askilsrud of Wasatch Academy. Thomas’ previous best time came earlier this season at the Tooele Invitational, when he posted a time of 57.52.
“All season, I’ve had a lot of pressure because I wanted to defend my title,” Thomas said. “Going into this week, I knew I was going to be seeded first, but you never know when someone can come through (and win). I was just hoping that if I tried my best, I’d get first.”
Begay’s double-gold day gave her six career state titles, and also earned her Top Female Swimmer honors for Class 3A. Neither one of her races was ever in question, though she put an exclamation point on things by posting new personal-bests in the 200 free (1:58.57) and 500 free (5:16.12). She felt better about her two titles this year after struggling by her lofty standards as a sophomore.
“Last year was a little bit rough, and I was trying to get back to where I was my freshman year,” Begay said. “It felt pretty good.”
Begay competed in the 200 free at state for the first time in her career, having won state titles in the 100 butterfly in each of her first two seasons. However, she was just as dominant as ever, winning the race by 11.26 seconds over runner-up Aubri Kling of Richfield. She smashed her previous personal best of 1:59.32, which she set her freshman year.
“My coach and I talked about how I swam fly two years in a row, so it was nice to have something different,” Begay said. “There’s more time between the 200 and the 500 than there is between the 100 fly and the 500, so it was nice to have a little break in between (races).”
Later in the meet, Begay took to the pool again for her signature event, the 500 free. Again, Begay dominated the race from the start, leading by nearly two and a half seconds after just 50 yards. She went on to finish 19.58 seconds ahead of Maeser Prep’s Kylie Hansen, finishing the race before Hansen had even started her final 25 yards.
“The 200’s a lot shorter, so you have to sprint,” Begay said. “In the 500, you kind of pace and try to keep an easy 100 pace going. In the 200, you have to swim as fast as you can. (In the 500), my timer would shake the counter if I needed to go faster or hold it still if I needed to go slower.”
While Thomas and Begay brought home the gold, they were far from the only standouts for a small-but-mighty Grantsville contingent. Junior Ben Smurthwaite also made his way to the podium twice, finishing second in the boys’ 200 individual medley (PR of 2:12.25, 5.23 seconds ahead of his previous best) and third in the 100 fly (PR of 56.70, 0.79 faster than his previous best). Thomas and Smurthwaite helped propel the Cowboys to a ninth-place team finish.
The Grantsville boys also finished 10th in the 400 free relay, with Zane Thomas, Matthew Jorgensen, Evan Thomas and Smurthwaite. Zane Thomas, Smurthwaite, Evan Thomas and Jorgensen were 15th in the 200 medley relay, and Evan Thomas, Brock Merrill, Dustin Carter and Dominic Ramsey were 15th in the 200 free relay.
The girls’ 200 medley relay team (Mary Armantrout, Kira Higley, Begay and Sydnee Smurthwaite) finished 13th, as did the 400 free relay team of Arianna McKendrick, Shelby Robinson, Sydnee Smurthwaite and Armantrout. The Grantsville girls finished 12th in the team standings.
However, there was something about those relay teams that impressed Cowboys coach Chism Nash.
“With the relays, we could have gotten more points, but (Saturday) morning, some of our more experienced swimmers decided to let some of the younger kids swim so they could have the opportunity to swim at state,” Nash said. “To me, that means more than any sort of (team) score. That, to me, is real winning.
“It was a great finish. These kids did their best and it was awesome. I couldn’t be more proud of these kids.”
Nash is stepping down after leading the Grantsville swim program for the past 10 seasons. He has seen the program grow from modest beginnings to become a competitive group that makes an impression at the state meet year after year.
“My first year as head coach, we had one kid swimming in one event (at state) and one alternate,” Nash said. “My second year, it was just me and one kid. After that, it took off. We’ve seen some growth. It’s the kids — it’s not me. They’re the ones out there getting their friends to join the team and they’re the ones saying ‘this is a lot of fun.’ They’re the ones putting in the work and the time.”
Carbon won the girls team championship, with Richfield second, Rowland Hall third, Emery fourth and Judge Memorial fifth. Union beat Judge Memorial for the boys’ team title, with Richfield another two points back in third. North Summit and Grand rounded out the top five.