Thrice as Nice!

The Rockhurst swim and dive team dominate state on its way to a third straight team title.

The Aquahawks pose with their trophy after winning their third consecutive state title on Nov. 11, 2022. They scored a record number of points in the process, 422, and enjoyed a 154-point margin of victory over the second place school.

Tate Slaymaker, Staff Reporter

The Rockhurst AquaHawks won their third consecutive and 14th overall state championship by a historic margin at the state meet last Friday. The team scored the most points in Missouri state history, 422, almost doubling second place Park Hill South’s score of 268.

In Missouri, the swimmers with the top 32 times per event qualify for prelims at state. Then, the top 16 after prelims qualify for finals and are guaranteed to score points for their respective team. After a prelim meet on Thursday morning, where 12 Rockhurst swimmers qualified for finals, it was clear that Rockhurst was in for a successful meet. It also helped that the Aquahawk divers put several points on the board on Thursday, too, with senior Owen Stuckey taking first place overall. 

“When I joined the team freshman year, my goal for my senior year was to make it into state, but I never would’ve guessed that I would ever win it,” said Stuckey. “I couldn’t have done it without the support of my coaches and teammates.”

Also in diving, sophomore Joseph Douglas took third and senior Tony Orrick ninth, scoring a collective 45 points for Rockhurst.

Friday morning’s swim finals meet started off strong as well, with the 200 yard medley team consisting of senior Caden Francois, senior John Switzer, junior Evan Crim and senior John Tietjen taking first place. The relay team’s time of 1:33.61 also broke the Rockhurst school record by 1.31 seconds.

Next was the 200 yard freestyle, where senior John Tietjen took third place and senior Carson Smith fifth. Also in this event, was freshman Josh Battison, who took fifteenth place in his state debut. After his race, Battison said that he “never could have done [it] if it weren’t for the support of [his] team.”

Following was the 200 yard individual medley, where Rockhurst had two swimmers in the top four, with junior Blake Francois at second and sophomore Andy Baklanov at forth. 

Next was the 50 yard freestyle where senior George Rebman took third place, only 0.02 seconds behind second. Going into the meet, Rebman had the thirteenth fastest 50 freestyle in the state, so his jump up to third place scored many unanticipated points for Rockhurst.

“[Winkeler] is unbelievable,” said Rebman. “His training regimen prepared me for state in a way that other schools can’t replicate, and it showed in my performance. I never thought I would make the podium, and I am so grateful for the help [Winkeler] and Wilcox gave me. They made it possible.”

The next event of the meet was the 100 yard butterfly, where Crim and Smith took back-to-back placements at fifth and sixth place. Crim, a transfer student from Park Hill, was not able to compete at last year’s state meet due to MSHSAA’s transfer eligibility rules.

“Although it was a long time coming, it was extremely worthwhile,” said Crim. “The bonds I made on this team were far tighter than anything I’ve ever experienced, and I’m couldn’t be more grateful to be able to swim next to them this year.”

Next was the 100 yard freestyle, where Rockhurst had three swimmers in the top eight. Caden Francois took second place, finishing only 0.28 seconds behind first. Also in the event, Rebman took fourth and Switzer eighth.

In the 500 yard freestyle, Tietjen took second place, and Battison and senior Brian Bessenbacher took back-to-back placements at eleventh and twelfth place.

“I swam with Battison in [the same lane] all year. Although I hated losing to a freshman in my last race, I’m really proud of him,” said Bessenbacher. “He came in as a scared freshman who I barely knew to sort of a little brother, so I’m super happy he succeeded in both his 200 and 500.”

In the next event, the 200 yard freestyle relay, the relay team, consisting of Blake Francois, Switzer, Smith and Rebman, took yet another first place finish, falling only 0.59 seconds short of the Rockhurst-school record, with a time of 1:25.21.

Next was the 100 yard backstroke, and Rockhurst absolutely dominated this event with four finishes in the top five. Caden Francois took first place while breaking his own previously held Rockhurst-school record of 49.92 with a new time of 48.37 seconds.

“I knew I was going to go much faster in finals because I slipped on my start in prelims but I never imagined that I would be able to break my own record twice in one meet,” said Francois. “What made it even better is that we went 1-3-4-5 in the event, scoring a ton of points.”

Following Caden Francois, Crim took third place, Blake Francois fourth and Baklanov fifth.

In the last individual event of the meet, the 100 yard breaststroke, Switzer took seventh place and senior Tate Slaymaker fifteenth.

In the final event of the meet, the 400 yard freestyle relay, the relay team, consisting of Blake Francois, Smith, Tietjen and Caden Francois, took first place. They also broke the Missouri-state record with a time of 3:04.03 that was previously held by Rockhurst’s 2009 team (3:05.14).

The big team win at state meant a little more this year to the coaches and athletes. In August, Rockhurst AquaHawk alumnus Trevor Weinrich unexpectedly passed away at the age of 25. This year’s state championship was won in his honor.

“The bond forged between the current team and the AquaHawk Alumni is a special one that continues to impact the development of the team each season,” said coach Paul Winkeler. “This season was no different, and having our alums along the path towards state made this a very special state championship. In August, we suddenly lost an alum, Trevor Weinrich, but Trevor’s presence on the team remained and was apparent every day. His impact on me made this a very personal event and one that I’m proud to share with him. Trevor’s memory will never be forgotten by any of the members of this team.”