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Girls swimming: Niwot 200 free relay aiming to finish with flourish

Niwot's 200 freestyle relay team -- from left, Kylie Pillard, Elise Cranny, Chase Balman and Hannah Driscoll -- will take aim at a state title this weekend at the 4A finals.
Matthew Jonas / Longmont Times-Call
Niwot’s 200 freestyle relay team — from left, Kylie Pillard, Elise Cranny, Chase Balman and Hannah Driscoll — will take aim at a state title this weekend at the 4A finals.


NIWOT — Unrivaled in Colorado over the past several years of her prep distance running career, Niwot High School’s Elise Cranny has grown accustomed to the sometimes solitary nature of her training and competition.

A member of the Cougars swim team during the winter sports season, Cranny isn’t the monolithic standard she is during the fall cross country or spring track seasons. If she’s to add a state swimming title to her collection, Cranny will do it as a member of a relay team.

For the Cougars, the 200 freestyle relay is the team’s big gun. Each of its members will be counting on the others in order to compete for a 4A state title on Saturday at Edora Pool Ice Center in Fort Collins. The preliminary heats begin Friday afternoon.

“For me, the relay holds you accountable to swim as fast as you can because the other girls are going to swim fast too,” Cranny said. “There’s a lot of excitement around our relay because we just work well together. We’ll all have to be fast and take care of the little things and it should be a good state meet.”

Senior relay members Hannah Driscoll, Kylie Pillard and Cranny all swam on the relay team that took second at last year’s 4A state finals, where the Cougars place ninth as a team.

The three seniors among the current Cougars swimmers have been relay teammates for what feels like forever to them. Thing is, the Thompson Valley team they are chasing also graduated just one senior from last year’s relay squad that set a new 4A state meet record time of 1:36.54. Though the Cougars entered last weekend’s Northern League meet with the fastest seeding time, the Eagles team beat them out for the title by 1.58 seconds.

Then, there’s Valor Christian’s team, which enters the state meet with the fastest seed time at 1:38.54. The Cougars will now enter the state meet with the third-fastest seed time, a 1:40.10.

“We’ve been swimming it together since we were freshmen,” Pillard said. “We’ve really worked on throughout the season and we were disappointed in our time (at the Northern championship) so hopefully we can carry some momentum into this weekend. We’re all really excited to go for it. Our goal is to win.”

With all the pool time the seniors have logged together over be past four years, it was asking a lot to throw freshman Chase Balman into a senior-laden relay determined to win a state title. But Pillard said Balman held her own and has done a fine job of keeping the relay among the top times in the state.

For Balman, solidifying her performance was just a matter of finding a comfort level as the youngest member of the team.

“I love being on a team of seniors, especially being the baby freshman,” Balman said. “It was intimidating starting out the season but they’ve reached out to me. I started to feel like a part of the team and started swimming some of my best splits.”

Experience and continuity are the Niwot 200 relay swimmers’ strengths. Their fastest swimmer is Driscoll.

Seeded second in both the 50 freestyle and the 100 backstroke, Driscoll clearly stands as the Cougars’ best hope for an individual title. Anchoring the 200 freestyle relay team to an already outstanding season, Driscoll and the relay swimmers have put themselves in a strong position. All they have left to do, she said, is to swim their best at state and see if they can’t stand out one more time.

“We know we have a shot. That’s always a cool feeling and it makes people go fast,” Driscoll said. “We really just want it for the team so we’re going to leave it all in the pool.”

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