Winning the Wyoming Class 4A state swimming and diving championship last winter still hasn’t completely sunk in for the Laramie High Plainsmen.
After all, it was one of the most dramatic endings in state swimming history when Laramie shattered a state record in the final 400-yard freestyle relay event to win by the slimmest of margins.
“It was a storybook ending, and I still pinch myself every time I think about that — to win by two points after the last relay and break the state record in that — it was an incredible feeling,” said Tom Hudson, who returns for his 29th season coaching the Plainsmen. “We have a lot to live up to this season.”
Defending a championship after the 20th state title in program history — and first since a three-peat from 2009-11 — is exactly what the LHS boys are aiming for as the season gets underway today. The Plainsmen will host the traditional season-opening Laramie Relays at 3 p.m. today and the Laramie Pentathlon at 9 a.m. Saturday.
With 13 state qualifiers last season providing a mix of top-end power and overall depth, the Plainsmen were down by four points at 198-194 to Thunder Basin before winning the 400 freestyle relay in 3 minutes, 10.49 seconds, breaking the 19-year state record by nearly two seconds.
Thunder Basin, who split from two-time state champion Campbell County to start the 2017-18 school year, was runner-up in the relay. Laramie beat Thunder Basin for the team title with 226 points to the Bolts’ 224 points. Casper Kelly Walsh was third at 214.5.
The relay team was then seniors McKay Lake and Logan Pickard and now senior Connor Fontana and junior Max DeYoung.
Another critical win at state was the 200 freestyle relay when Lake, then-senior Jesse Franc, Pickard and DeYoung won with a school-record 1:25.98, again edging Thunder Basin.
DeYoung, who was voted Athlete of the Meet, also won the 100 backstroke in 51.13 (Thunder Basin’s Gunnar Poley was second at 53.86) and the 200 individual medley in 1:56.57 (Green River’s Michael Richmond was runner-up in 1:58.14).
DeYoung returns, but will miss the opening meets this weekend. He is in Austin, Texas, competing at the USA Swimming’s Speedo Winter Junior Nationals-West.
“It begins with Max DeYoung — four event state champion from last season,” Hudson said. “Wherever we put him, we expect to win at any time and any place throughout the whole year.
“After that, we have some strong returners. Connor Fontana placed in the top six last year and Christopher Bury has really turned into being not just a diver. He really trained himself to be a great swimmer as well. We are looking for those guys to lead the way.”
Fontana was fourth in the 200 freestyle (1:48.69) and seventh in the 500 freestyle (5:11.58). Bury was third in diving with 407.40 points and junior Trenton Hamel was eighth with 365.10 points. Bury was also seventh in the 100 backstroke in 57.72.
“We have a bunch of great returning athletes and a bunch of new freshmen coming up,” Bury said. “They are all putting in the work and training super hard. I think it could be a great year because we have a whole team thing going on that could work to our advantage.”
Other returners include: senior Noah Richardson, eighth in the 100 butterfly (56.80) and 10th in the 100 backstroke (59.26); Junior Rowan Kelly, ninth in the 500 freestyle (5:16.32) and 12th in the 200 freestyle (1:56.80). Bury and Richardson were also part of the fifth-place 200 medley relay team (1:43.18); and junior Sean Clerkin, 12th in the 500 freestyle (5:25.59).
The LHS boys were 10-2 in duals last season and also won the East Conference regional meet. The Plainsmen are now in the West Conference with Evanston, Green River, Rock Springs, Casper Natrona and Casper Kelly Walsh.