The Prairie Fire swimming and diving team competed at the Midwest Conference Swimming and Diving Championships on Feb. 15 through Feb. 17. The three-day competition was an exciting season-ending feat. On the first day, junior Melissa Wood qualified for the women’s 50 freestyle with a time of 25.86 seconds in the preliminaries and earned four points with a 13th place finish in the finals, with a time of 26.03.
“Making finals for all of my individual events was rewarding, especially because I had no idea where I would be, placing-wise, going into the meet,” Wood said. “Finals at championship meets are always a fun experience because there is so much excitement and enthusiasm from the teams, competitors and spectators.”
On day two, Wood placed 10th in the 100 back, with a time of 1:04.21. Wood said she enjoyed the opportunity to swim in the finals because it’s sort of a “second chance” if the swimmers aren’t happy with their original times. Senior Sosy Fleming had a 12th place finish in the women’s 100 fly with a time of 1:09.91.
On day three, senior Joe Hilger was awarded the Elite 20 Award for men’s swimming. Each year, the Midwest Conference recognizes the student-athlete with the highest cumulative grade point average who is partaking in the sport’s culminating championship or tournament event.
“It was an honor to receive the award, and make my coach and team proud. As much as [head coach Jonathan Powers] pushes us and wants us to succeed in the pool, he also stresses the importance of working hard in the classroom,” Hilger said about the award.
Senior Halle Gerash finished 15th in the women’s 1650 freestyle with a time of 20:27.44. Wood then made the A final, also known as the top-eight, in the 200 back, getting a fifth place finish with a time of 2:16.62. She is the first A finalist for Knox since 2017.
“This was my last swim meet of my college swimming career and I feel really satisfied with how well I did,” Gerash said. “It was also nice to be recognized during the senior recognition ceremony on the final day of conference. It is sad for me that this was my last year on the swim team, but this last conference meet was a nice way to end my final season.”
Although the team didn’t win the meet itself, they didn’t seem too disappointed as a lot of the members met their personal goals for the weekend.
“The Conference swim meet is always a really long three days but it’s always nice to be with the team one last time for the season and see everyone do well in their individual event,” Gerash said. “A lot of us got personal best times so that made us all excited. We didn’t win the meet, although we never do, but we were glad to have done so well individually.”
Powers was very excited for his team. As a professor, he said it was a great achievement for Hilger to receive the academic award. Powers believes the work the team has done in the weight room with strength and conditioning coach Andy Gibbons has helped them be more successful.
“While the team placings don’t reflect it, we had a great meet. I was really pleased with how well we swam and how much time the team dropped,” Powers said. “We had a lot of times that were five to seven percent faster than our previous times which is better than we’ve done in the past. I think the strength work the team did with Coach Gibbons really helped,” Powers said.
The team will graduate eight senior: Shannon Brooks, Rebecca Disomma, Fleming, Gerash, Elena Iatropoulu-Bannat, Julia Steen, Irene Stephenson and Hilger. This concludes the season for swimming and diving.