For the first time in 14 years, the state big school girls swim trophy was held by a team another than Xavier College Prep.
To the strains of “Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey, the Desert Vista girls held the trophy aloft as the sun went down on the Division I state swim meet Saturday afternoon at Skyline High School in Mesa.
The Thunder edged Xavier in points 278.5-267 to win the state title – the first to beat the Phoenix parochial school since 1998, when Mountain View prevailed.
“Trying for a long, long, long time,” DV coach Shawn O’Connell said when asked how his team pulled off the historical win. “Being lucky in a cycle at our school where the outgoing seniors are there long enough for the incoming freshmen to come in. A bit of luck. Determination. This team was mentally tough.”
The Thunder only had one state champion on Saturday, Cecelia Kowalski in the 200 freestyle, and she tied Brianna Leverenz of Tucson Rincon with a time of 1:50.48.
Kowalski also had a third-place finish, in the 500 free, and Madeline Nichols was fourth in the 100 backstroke and 100 butterfly.
Annabella Ankeney was fifth in the 100 freestyle but also anchored the meet-ending 400 free relay and stayed ahead of Xavier on that final leg to ensure the team victory.
“It feels so amazing,” Ankeney said, tears welling in her eyes. “We beat them in a dual meet and that was amazing and then we worked so hard today, and we were putting so much effort, it was the honestly the biggest goal this entire season. We did this today and it is the best feeling ever. I am so proud of my team.”
The Thunder were second in that 400 free relay with the team of Noelle Lavigne, Bailee Blankemeier, Kowalski and Ankeney. They were also third in the 200 medley relay and 200 free relay.
“We knew that (Friday) we swam strong, we swam lights out,” O’Connell said. “And so did Xavier. Coming into (Friday), anyone could have won. But (Friday) we swam near perfect, as far as season-best times, unheard of. All we wanted was a chance today. And we put outselves in position.”
Xavier has traditionally used depth to amass more points that other schools in winning 24 of the last 25 titles, dating to 1988.
“They didn’t give up against Xavier at the dual meet this year, they didn’t give up at Chaparral at the dual meet,” O’Connell said. “You can talk about but you gotta do it. You gotta a show up. We had better swims yesterday but we had a couple of No. 1 seeds that had tough days. But they hung in there.”
The Thunder boys finished third behind Brophy and Chaparral.
Deiter Benz finished third in the 200 free and fifth in the 100 free, Michael Hopper was third overall in diving, Eddie Roggenstein was fifth in the breaststroke, the 400 free relay was fourth and Josh Vedder finished third in the 100 backstroke.
Mountain Pointe girls finished 28th overall and the boys were 20th.
Jordan Nelson finished ninth in diving, while the Pride 200 medley relay of TJ Rachford, Colin Smith, Bryce Burchi and Robert Burger finished seventh.