Lincoln — A change made by the Nebraska School Activities Association a year ago could help determine which teams emerge on top Saturday at the state swimming championships.
The NSAA expanded the total finalists from 12 to 16 — eight each in the championship and consolation finals.
With more athletes getting the chance to score, depth could play a larger role in the team races.
In the boys meet, Omaha Creighton Prep is a clear favorite to win its eighth consecutive title when the meet begins with prelim swims at 1:30 p.m. Friday at the Devaney Center.
The Junior Jays have 27 swimmers entered in the eight individual events and three relays. Prep has the potential to eclipse its state scoring record of 411 points set in 2011.
the expanded field of finalists is expected to make the biggest difference in the girls competition, which begins at 9 a.m. Friday. Lincoln Southwest is considered the favorite by most, but several squads are ready to pounce if the Silver Hawks slip.
Defending state champion Millard West and 2012 champion Omaha Westside are two of those teams, and Metro Conference champion Millard North and Omaha Marian might have enough depth to challenge Southwest.
“On paper you certainly have to say that Southwest has the inside track,” Westside coach Doug Krecklow said. “If you've watched speedskating lately, that doesn't always work out.”
Krecklow said the Silver Hawks “have the look that people want to see at this time of the season.”
“They certainly have a lot of the top swimmers,” he said. “(But) when there are enough teams that have good swimmers, they'll start knocking each other off.”
Krecklow sees two major keys to the outcome of the 41st girls championship meet.
“The relays are always important and will be again this year,” Krecklow said. “The other part won't be with the kids who finish in the top four, but the kids in the five through 16 ranks. That consolation heat will be a big factor.”
The 20 points a team gets for winning an individual event can be neutralized by two, three or four swimmers from another team scoring in the consolation swims.
“It's one thing for winning,” Krecklow said, “but if you go 5-6-7-8 or 6-7-8-9, you've just outscored that top event.”
The Silver Hawks finished second to Millard West in 2013. The Wildcats outscored Southwest 267-222, while Omaha Marian and Elkhorn/Elkhorn South tied for third with 197 points apiece.
With freshmen Dannie Dilsaver and Olivia Calegan added to a roster already rich with talent, the Silver Hawks proved they were ready for the postseason by winning the Heartland Conference title Feb. 15.
Friday's prelims could narrow the field of potential team champions.
“You can't overlook Millard West because they've been there before,” Krecklow said. “Millard West and Marian, none of their kids looked very rested, and they certainly weren't shaved and weren't in their speed suits.”
That means those teams — like most of the others — have been aiming for this weekend. Marian had a rough Metro meet in 2013 but rebounded nicely at state. This year, the Crusaders finished sixth at Metro.
“It's not like we have Creighton Prep on the girls side that is heels and heads above everybody else,” Krecklow said. “They have not only the kids on top, they have great depth.”
Prep coach Tom Beck said having so many kids competing this weekend also helps build confidence and expectations for future Junior Jays teams.
“It bodes well for the future, those kids vying for those spots in the consolation finals if not sneaking into the championship race,” Beck said. “With kids returning who have state meet experience, you can keep things rolling pretty good.”
Though the boys team race doesn't figure to be close, Krecklow sees other reasons this could be a memorable meet.
“I expect there will be an onslaught on state records,” Krecklow said. “That's what I see, not just on the boys side, the girls side, too. A lot of them coming out of young kids.”