Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer
THORNTON — The girls swimming programs at Erie and Holy Family concluded their seasons at the Class 3A state meet Saturday with a fond look at what’s been built and what’s still to come.
Erie concluded its second season as a program with an eighth-place finish at Veterans Memorial Aquatic Center as senior Payten Irwin’s distinguished career came to close. Holy Family and promising freshman Abigail Philipsen, meanwhile, capped off its inaugural year in 14th.
“It’s pretty incredible,” Erie coach Kelly Shipley said afterward. “We have a bunch of really strong young swimmers who are just going to get better and better. It’s exciting, super exciting. Each year we just keep on getting better and better.”
For everything that has gone right for area teams over the first two swimming championships, individual and relays have come just short of victory. For a second straight day at VMAC, no BoCoPreps swimmer was crowned after an event. Fairview won the 5A team title Friday despite not having a swim champ. Irwin had two individual silvers and Philipsen grabbed a bronze in 3A. Class 4A finals are Wednesday.
“Being a part of this team has been a joy,” said Irwin, who swam at Niwot before joining her school’s team as a junior. “Our team has improved so much in the short two years we’ve had it.”
Irwin became the first state champion in the program’s inaugural season a year ago, taking gold in the 50 freestyle before adding another in the 100 butterfly. That, along with her seventh-place finishes as part of the 200 medley and 400 freestyle relays, led to 112 of the 145 total meet points for the Tigers, who finished ninth.
Her wins were upsets. Not colossal in proportion (Irwin graduates as one of the top swimmers in Colorado to join Washington State), but head turning. Having just the second-fastest preliminary time in the 50 free and the third-best mark in the butterfly, she flipped a switch and eclipsed top-seed Caitlin Cairns of St. Mary’s in each event. Her combined margin of victory over Cairns was nine-hundredths north of a second.
A year forward, though, the Pirates senior held her place. With perhaps the meet’s most intriguing matchup seeded in similar spots as they were in 2019, Cairns didn’t relinquish her top spot and won the 50 in 23.09 seconds and the fly in 55.27.
If Irwin had to fall short of repeating, she was glad it was Cairns who triumphed.
“She swam incredible,” said Irwin, who took second (24.46 and 56.37, respectively). “I’m glad it was her.”
A final farewell for some. A sparkling debut for others, like Philipsen. The freshman helped to score 89 of the 116 points for Holy Family, finishing third in the 100 backstroke and sixth in the 200 IM. She also had her hand in 10th-place finishes for its 200 medley and 400 freestyle relays.
Afterward, Tigers coach Mary Whitney expressed her excitement of a solid Year 1, which included a victory at the Tri-Valley League meet a week ago. Among the things to come includes 14 underclassmen on its MaxPreps roster, and possibly three more years of Philipsen.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better year,” Whitney said. “We have a very, very young talented team and can’t wait to watch them grow. Our seniors had a heck of a year. I really can’t wait to see how this team grows. We have nowhere to go but up.”
Elsewhere, fellow-TVL member Berthoud finished 12th in its second year as a program. Jamie Dellwardt had a lot to do with it.
Dellwardt took nearly four seconds off her prelim time in the 200 IM and finished second in 2:11.44. Then, she beat her prelim in 100 backstroke by more than a second, adding another silver in 58.41.
It was a third straight state appearance for Dellwardt, who was with Thompson Valley as a freshman before exploding onto the scene as an individual last year with a silver in the backstroke and bronze in the IM for the Spartans.
As a whole, Berthoud climbed two spots from its 14-place finish in 2019. In the follow-up, Dellwardt also had her hands in a fifth-place finish in the 200 medley relay (1:55.00) and a ninth in the 400 freestyle relay (3:51.29).
“She’s been huge, such a positive influence,” Berthoud coach Matthew Goldsmith said. “She does her club work with Loveland Swim Club and that’s been really good for her. The girls see that dedication and love for the sport, and all that does is motivate them to be better themselves.”