After coming tantalizingly close in the past few years, the O’Fallon Township High School girls’ swim team finally broke through into the top tier of competitive high school swim teams in the southern half of the state with a third place finish at the Illinois High School Association sectional meet hosted by Springfield Sacred Heart Griffin.
On the strength of a solid team effort accentuated by two sectional championship performances, the Panther swimmers ended the sectional competition with 140 points — good enough for a third place medal. Edwardsville High School captured the team title with Springfield High coming in second and OTHS bettering the rest of the 9-team field and a host of individual sectional qualifiers.
Senior Natalie Edwards, who has been the Panthers’ most consistent swimmer during the past four years, capped her outstanding high school career with a victory in the 500 yard freestyle. Combining skill, strength and endurance, Edwards out-distanced the field to win the event in a time of 5:12.48, touching the poolside nearly three seconds ahead of her closest competitor, Abigail Fierstros of Sacred Heart Griffin.
Not content with just one sectional championship, the OTHS super senior joined forces with a trio of junior teammates to claim O’Fallon High’s second first place finish. Nicole Moran, Sierra Workman, Hanna Barnes and Edwards combined to stave off challenges from Sacred Heart Griffin and Alton to win the 200 medley relay. The two sectional titles mark the first time in OTHS history the Lady Panther swimmers achieved that level of post-season success, propelling Edwards and the medley relay into state final competition.
The OTHS girls augmented the two sectional victories with solid performances in other events. Edwards capped her sensational meet by nearly claiming a third first place medal, finishing second in the 200 IM. Haley Rivera of Springfield High edged Edwards by 1.7 seconds.
The Lady Panthers earned five more top 10 finishes to add to their team score. The next best effort came from Sierra Workman, who finished fifth in the 100 butterfly. Nicole Moran and Jacqueline Simpson took sixth place in the 100 backstroke and the 1 meter diving competition respectively. Other O’Fallon squad members earning team points included Workman (7th in the 100 breaststroke), Moran (10th in the 50-yd. freestyle) and the 200 freestyle relay team (10th).
In the highly competitive IHSA state finals in Evanston, the two OTHS entries did not fare as well. Edwards finished the 500-freestyle event five seconds off her winning effort in the sectional meet and well off the pace set by state champion Ella Tierney of Loyola Academy. O’Fallon’s 200 medley relay team finished 32nd overall with a time of 1:53.66. The event was won by Oak Park.
“Even though our two state qualifiers were disappointed in their state tournament times, winning the sectional titles was a super effort,” said O’Fallon High coach Suzanne Gibson. “Defeating the field in both events was an awesome moment for our program. Performances that I’m sure will motivate our girls moving forward into next year’s season.”