GCHS takes 3-peat at championship meet
There were many goals that had been set in place for the 2020-21 Garden City High School boys swimming program.
They wanted to secure as many state qualifying times as possible, they wanted to win their third straight Western Athletic Conference championship and want to have some high finishes at the Class 6A state meet.
They’ve now knocked off two of those goals, with the latest coming Thursday at the Barton County Pool in Great Bend where the Buffs’ boys tankers demolished the other four WAC schools, scoring 430.50 points, easily outdistancing runner-up Great Bend’s 341 points.
It was a celebration for the seniors who have built the program on their shoulders over their four-year career after having the program resurrected since it was eliminated more than 25 years ago. The Buffs captured gold in 9 of the 11 events to overwhelm the remainder of the WAC field.
Highlighting the day, and there were many, was senior Connor Cupp earning the WAC Swimmer of the Year Award by claiming gold medals in the 100-yard butterfly and 100-yard breaststroke while swimming the third leg of both the winning 200-yard medley and 200-yard freestyle relay teams. The medley relay team, comprised of three seniors (Esai Morales, Cupp and Jeremiah Bunce), along with sophomore Kobe Otero, set a new WAC record in the event with a time of 1:46.52, eclipsing the previous mark of 1:47.26 set by the 2020 Buffs team.
“The meet was a great end to an era for these seniors,” head coach Brian Watkins said. “Our team was excited and started off hot in the 200-yard medley relay. It set the tone for the day and the boys responded with a lot of great races.”
Cupp won the 100-yard butterfly in a time of 56.39 seconds, more than 5 seconds ahead of second-place, and then garnered the top spot in the 100-yard breaststroke with a time of 1:05.45, just missing the WAC record by .41 of a second.
Two other Buffs also captured a pair of gold medals as Devin Chappel won the 200-yard freestyle in a time of 1:52.53 to Great Bend’s Matthew Huslig’s 1:52.58. Huslig was the event’s defending champ and had set the WAC mark of 1:52.39 a year ago. Chappel then responded with a gutsy 500-yard freestyle victory, clocking a 5:22.94, winning by more than 30 seconds. He also swam legs on the 200- and 400-yard freestyle relays.
Sophomore Kobe Otero, who captured the 2020 WAC Swimmer of the Year award, was in championship form again, winning the 100-yard freestyle and 100-yard backstroke, breaking WAC records in both events. His time of 51.39 broke the record of 51.99 set by Isaac Panzer of Great Bend and Otero needed that record time as runner-up Jacob Sauter of Liberal clocked a 51.57 time. In the 100-yard backstroke, Otero broke his own mark of 58.47 with a time of 57.37, clipping off 1.1 seconds from 2020. Otero also swam legs of the 200-yard medley relay (2nd leg, breaststroke) and the anchor leg of the 400-yard freestyle relay.
“After winning the first two events (medley relay and Chappel in the 200 freestyle), we dropped events 3 and 4 (200-yard individual medley and 50-yard freestyle), events that we thought we could win,” Watkins said. “
Watkins said the team heard updated scores after the four events and only became more motivated to finish strong. They did just that. In order, they won the 100-yard butterfly, 100-yard freestyle, 500-yard freestyle, 200-yard freestyle relay, 100-yard backstroke, 100-yard breaststroke and the 400-yard freestyle relay.
“We didn’t lose another event, and although there was still several times that didn’t fall in our favor, they were able to plug away to the next event,” Watkins said.
While the swim meets always has a flavor of individual competition, Watkins said he was proud of the team concept embraced by his swimmers.
“It’s crazy, but our team is a special one because it doesn’t matter who is swimming, our entire team is fully invested in that race,” Watkins said. “The boys definitely made the best of every situation.”
In what had to be an emotional moment, it has been Watkins who rebuilt the Buffs’ boys swimming program when it was re-introduced as a varsity sport in the 2017-18 school year. Since then, the Buffs had placed third (2018) and then won three consecutive WAC team titles (2019-20-21).
Watkins has already resigned the position effective at the end of the school year and will be moving to Goddard to work within the Goddard school district, so it’s a bit of bittersweet success for him and the seniors who started with him.
“I am just really glad that I was able to be a part of these boys’ success,” Watkins said. “The work they put in on a daily basis has been inspiring to watch.”
Watkins said this season has been especially challenging, as it has for all athletic teams across Kansas due to COVID-19 restrictions.
“When we were told the season wasn’t going to start until after winter break, and maybe not at all, a few of these boys were completely defeated and it’s been a task to get them back into a winning mindset. I think they have fought through some things that were out of their control to really bounce back and show how talented they are. I don’t think I’ll ever get the opportunity to coach such a great group of kids like this again.”
- Garden City, 430.50; 2. Great Bend, 341; 3. Liberal, 165; 4. Hays, 160.50; 5. Dodge City, 156.
Garden City Individual Results
200y medley relay—1. Esai Morales (backstroke), Kobe Otero (breaststroke), Connor Cupp (butterfly), Jeremiah Bunce (freestyle), 1:46.52 (WAC Record, Old record 1:47.26 by Garden City, 2020); 3. Kaleb Otero, Brody Hoff, Alec Erskin, Aedryc Ortiz, 2:02.20.
200y freestyle—1. Devin Chappel, 1:52.53.
200y individual medley—3. Alec Erskin, 2:26.73.
50y freestyle—3. Esai Morales, 23.67.
100y butterfly—1. Connor Cupp, 56.39.
100y freestyle—1. Kobe Otero, 51.39; 3. Esai Morales, 52.38.
500y freestyle—1. Devin Chappel, 5:22.94.
200y freestyle relay—1. Jeremiah Bunce, Devin Chappel, Connor Cupp, Esai Morales), 1:34.95.
100y backstroke—1. Kobe Otero, 57.37; 3. Alec Erskin, 1:09.68.
100y breaststroke—1. Connor Cupp, 1:05.45.
400y freestyle relay—1. Devin Chappel, Alec Erskin, Jeremiah Bunce, Kobe Otero, 3:38.12.