LINCOLN — A dramatic team title chase and four state records Saturday made for one of the most exciting finals in the history of the girls state championships.
When Omaha Marian finished third in the 400-yard freestyle relay — the meet's final event — it secured the Crusaders' 13th title and first since 2007. Those 32 points allowed Marian to finish with 357, a half-point more than defending champ Lincoln Southwest. It was the closest finish to a girls state meet since the Crusaders and Lincoln Southeast tied for the title in 1982.
Marian coach Pat DiBiase said several sessions with a sports psychologist throughout the season helped the Crusaders gain a great understanding of the mental gymnastics from event to event.
"We were ready for adversity," DiBiase said. "We talked about managing the highs and lows of the emotions that come with a big meet like this."
Omaha Burke edged Millard West 204-189 for third place in front of a capacity crowd at the Devaney Center.
Southwest sophomore Olivia Calegan was the top performer at the meet with two individual state records and a third as the anchor leg for the Silver Hawks' 200-yard medley relay team.
Calegan was joined by Emma Vertin,
Dannie Dilsaver and Abigail Lunzmann on the medley relay that won in 1:45.01, 3.76 seconds faster than the runner-up Crusaders.
She then broke records in the 50 freestyle and 100 breaststroke. Calegan replaced former Omaha Marian star Katie Eckholt as the faster female swimmer in state history with her winning 50 time of 23.17.
In the final individual event, Calegan became the second swimmer in state history to go sub-l:03 in the breaststroke, winning in 1:02.54. She also won a fourth gold medal leading off Southwest's victorious 200 freestyle relay.
Her individual achievements were tempered by the setback in the team race, but Calegan found a silver lining.
"It's sad," she said, "but at the same time, it was a good thing because going into the meet we were down by 20 or 25 points when you scored the meet by seed times. We made almost all of that up, so we did better than expected."
The other state record set Saturday was by Burke senior Dana Posthuma. The Nebraska recruit won the 100 butterfly in 54.83.
The previous state best was the 55.05 by former Millard West standout Shannon Guy in 2010. Posthuma and Guy are the only swimmers in state history to go lower than 56 seconds in that event.
In the team race, both Marian and Southwest had to scratch and claw for every point through all 11 events. The only event the Crusaders won was 1-meter diving Thursday.
DiBiase, who has coached 10 of Marian's team state champions, said this was the first of Marian's titles with no victories in swimming events.
He said one key event Saturday was the 200 freestyle relay. The Crusaders needed to finish at least second and got that done, by 0.05 seconds.
Southwest won the event in 1:35.49, the second-fastest time in state history. Marian (1:36.14) and third-place Omaha Burke (1:36.19) also swam fast enough to land at No. 7 and No. 8 on the all-time chart.
Another key event for Marian was the 100 backstroke. The star was Omaha Westside junior Elizabeth Amato-Hanner, who had set the state record in that event during Friday's prelims.
Amato-Hanner won Saturday's final in 55.71, 0.01 seconds off her state record. It was the fourth individual title in Amato-Hanner's career and her second consecutive backstroke title.
Marian swimmers finished second, sixth, eighth and 10th to outscore the Silver Hawks 48-39 in the backstroke. Entering that event, Southwest had led 243.5-243; the results put the Crusaders ahead 291-282.5.
Only the breaststroke remained before the 400 relay. Both teams scored 34 points — Southwest swimmers were first, ninth and 12th while Marian was fourth, sixth and 11th — to set up the dramatic final relay.
If the seeds had held in the 400 relay — the Silver Hawks qualified first and Marian fourth — Southwest would have won. For the Crusaders to win the team title, they needed to move up one spot.
That's exactly what happened. Naeleah Hadford got Marian the lead after the first leg, but the Silver Hawks took over for good when Shelby Mullendore went ahead on the second leg.
Marian needed to hold off either Millard West or Burke. The Wildcats used a sizzling 51.26 anchor leg by Tara Goss to pass Marian and finish second in 3:31.99 — the No. 8 all-time performance.
Burke finished more than three seconds behind Marian, meaning the Crusaders got to take the celebratory team dive into the pool after accepting the championship trophy.
DiBiase said this title will rank as one of the most special among the 10 he has won at Marian and two leading the Omaha Westside boys.
"This team improved more in one season than any team I've ever had," DiBiase said. "They just kept getting better and better.
"They focused on the team concept, and some girls needed to move around and get in different events. They bought into it that we were doing it for the greater good, and today all of that work paid off."
BITS AND PIECES
• Lincoln Southwest's Dilsaver also won the 500 freestyle in 5:02.30, 2.64 seconds ahead of freshman teammate Alana Palmer. Holly Hopson of Millard North was third in 5:06.96.
• Lincoln PiusXfreshman CarolineTheil was the other individual double gold medal winner. Theil won the 200 freestyle in 1:50.40 — 2.50 seconds ahead of runner-up Palmer — after qualifying first Friday in 1:50.11. Theil also wasted no time getting out front in the 100 free. She swam her first 50 in 24.55 and finished in 51.00, the second-fastest time in state history. Theil was 1.95 seconds ahead of runner-up Bryn Lohrbergof Elkhorn/Elkhorn South.
"This team improved more in one season than any team I've ever had. They just kept getting better and better." — Marian coach Pat DiBiase