The sport of girls swimming seems to be growing by leaps and bounds in Colorado, and a reflection of that is the idea of the Colorado High School Activities Association adding a third classification to the sport starting next season.
Only three area teams — Longmont, Centaurus and Broomfield — will be directly affected by the change in the way of dropping to different classes, but it could very well lead to more individuals from a number of teams getting a chance to swim at state at season's end.
"Overall I think this is very good for girls high school swimming in Colorado because a lot more girls are going to get engaged and get motivated because of more opportunities to make state," Fairview coach Bob Smartt said. "With three (state) meets instead of two, you've grown that pool that much more.
"Another good aspect of this is just the opportunity for girls who aren't club swimmers to contribute more. You get more high school only swimmers to that state meet, it's going to broaden their level of commitment and enjoyment."
Last year, there were over 60 teams in 5A and 60 in 4A. However, starting in the 2016-2017 season those classifications will drop by about 15-20 teams apiece as Class 3A will consist of 41 programs. This re-alignment was all drawn out at the latest swimming and diving legislative committee meeting last week.
While the annual team title contenders in 5A will still include the likes of Cherry Creek, Fossil Ridge, Fairview and Regis Jesuit, squads like Loveland, Highlands Ranch and Heritage stand out as top teams that will likely drop to 4A.
Broomfield is among that group, as well. The Eagles will be catching a break in being able to shoot for 4A state qualifying marks, which tend to differ by a few seconds depending on the event as compared to 5A.
The same can be said for Longmont and Centaurus in their move to 3A as the standards will be much lower than what those schools are used to. The Warriors finished 11th at last year's 4A meet and could easily break into the top 10 in 3A, while the Trojans should be able to bring a larger contingent to state in hopes of breaking a four year-long stretch without scoring a point at the meet.
There will still be some tough teams to contend with in 3A, notably Evergreen, Lewis-Palmer and Manitou Springs. Evergreen won the 4A meet last year, the Rangers finished 13th in 5A and Manitou placed 5th in 4A.
For Smartt and Fairview, defending the 5A team title won this winter may come down to having just a few girls scoring a few more points for the team. He noted that FHS had three first alternates at the state meet that this coming season may be able to add those crucial points by not only lowering times but also seeing one or two opponents now at the 4A meet instead.
"I don't think 5A will see a lot of drop-off, but you're going to see a lot of changes in 4A," Smartt said. "We're already trying to figure out how we can keep up with Fossil. Who among those consolation finishers can we get to move up, and who was an alternate that came so close to giving us points that might be able to this year. With even just a little less competition, I think it could be good for us."
While qualifying marks remained the same for 2016-17, the state meets will rotate sites and dates for the next three years between Edora Pool Ice Center in Fort Collins and Thornton's Veterans Memorial Aquatic Center. This year, 5A will move to VMAC and will overlap the 3A meet during a three-day span (Feb. 9-11, 2017). Class 4A will conduct state at EPIC (Feb. 10-11).
In 2018, the 3A and 4A meets will be at the same site, and in 2019 4A and 5A will converge.