Sage Morton’s specialty is long-distance swimming.
The motivating factor for the Laramie High senior to find a little more endurance to be a bit faster started the moment she looked up at the scoreboard after the 500-yard freestyle in last season’s Class 4A state championships.
1. McKenna Hauber, Campbell County, 5:18.24.
2. Sage Morton, Laramie, 5:22.95.
It was the best Morton placed individually at state, but it began a training regimen on a higher level during the winter, spring and summer with the Laramie Swim Club.
“She just got super determined and trained really hard with Scott Cronk and the Laramie Swim Club,” LHS veteran swimming coach Tom Hudson said. “She broke the state record in the 500 free. Then she trained all summer, and at the summer state championships, broke the state record in the 800 free. She has really taken off as a distance standout, worked really hard and is ready to carry that into her senior year.”
Morton was also coached by former University of Wyoming swimmer and Laramie Swim Club assistant coach Ryan Ball during the summer.
“I trained really hard this summer with coach Ryan,” Morton said. “He really set me up for the distance events.”
Morton began her prep career at Cheyenne East before her family moved to Laramie before her sophomore year.
“I really like it there, and it was a good start to my swimming career,” Morton said. “Jamie (Winkler) was the coach and he was always great.”
After she became a Lady Plainsman in 2017, Morton was fourth at state in the 500 freestyle and a member of the record-breaking 400 freestyle relay that clinched a state title.
Morton said her improvement from her first to her second year was noticeable, but not so much for her junior season at LHS. In addition to being runner-up in the 500 freestyle, she was third in the 200 freestyle and also a member of the winning 400 freestyle relay.
“I don’t think it was as good as my sophomore year as far as improvement — I guess my finals didn’t go as well, but I liked the relays,” Morton said.
Morton, who began swimming competitively at 9 years old, has since set her sights on the pool lanes with an increased focus for her senior season.
“Swimming is something I’ve worked on for years, and I love to keep working on it and improving,” Morton said. “Practices help me get through the day and help clear my mind. (Distance events) are just easier for me to keep going once I get my endurance up. The mental part is to keep telling myself to keep going and working because in the end it will be worth it.”
The Lady Plainsmen have won 13 state titles and are the two-time defending champions.
In 2017, the state championships came down to the final 400 freestyle relay. The LHS girls broke a state record in the event (3 minutes, 33.16 seconds) to win the title with 258 points. Sheridan was second at 248. Laramie also broke a state record in the 200 freestyle relay (1:36.68), which was also instrumental in the close win.
The Lady Plainsmen dominated from beginning to end for the best ever finish at a state meet last season. The Lady Plainsmen tallied 318 points with Green River second at 189 and Campbell County third at 182. Although the LHS girls didn’t break the 2017 state records in the freestyle relays, they never lost either of them all season.
The Lady Plainsmen were also undefeated in all duals and invitationals, and qualified 26 athletes for the state meet with 22 of them competing.
Hudson, who is entering his 29th season coaching the LHS girls, knows his squad is the favorites again. But he added the gap may not be as large as last season.
“I would say we are the favorites, but by not as much as we were last year,” Hudson said. “Cheyenne Central has a lot of depth and a lot of girls on the team, and I would never count Green River out. I also think a sleeper is the Campbell County girls, who came on really strong to finish third last season without a lot of depth. This year, (coach) Phil Rehard has 18 girls as opposed to eight last year and they will be a formidable foe in invitational formats.”
The Lady Plainsmen return 15 state qualifiers from last season, and Hudson said his goal is to qualify about 22-23 athletes for the state meet after graduating a large class of 12 seniors.
The Lady Plainsmen also return the top swimmer in the state in senior Olivia McPherson.
McPherson is a two-time All-American and a three-time All-State swimmer. This summer she repeated as an All-American in the 50 freestyle and added the 100 freestyle and 100 breaststroke. She is a three-time defending state champion in the 50 freestyle and won the 100 freestyle last season in addition to being a member of both winning freestyle relays.
“I’ve been trying to keep up with some the distance stuff with Sage (Morton) that I’m not very good at,” said McPherson about what she has been working on for her senior campaign. “I’m just focusing on the little things like turns, starts and the underwater stuff — just tweaking the things I need to work on.”
Other Lady Plainsmen returning who were in the state finals last season are All-State swimmer junior Katie McPherson, seniors Madie Jablin and Heidi Schroeder and sophomore Anna Roesler.
Leading a large contingent of LHS divers are junior Maddie Appelhans and sophomore Natalie Six. Appelhans was third and Six was ninth at state last season.
“We have a lot of experience and picked up some good freshmen,” Hudson said. “There are seven girls on the diving team and that depth stirs up some quality. Only four can dive at state, so they will be battling for those spots.”
The LHS girls proved they have a solid mix of top-end talent and overall team depth last weekend when the Lady Plainsmen hosted the Laramie Relays and Laramie Pentathlon. The relays are formatted to mostly favor top-end talent and the pentathlon more reflects overall team depth — LHS won both.
“We approach the relays by trying to get in either the top two or three in every relay, and it was a pleasant surprise we won seven of the 11 relays with our top-end and depth coming through for us,” Hudson said. “The pentathlon, with Olivia winning and scoring 48 points on her own helped a lot, but we got eight in the top 30 and two divers in the top six. We are a balanced team and it showed in the pentathlon.”