The home fans in attendance let out a loud rejoice as the final score was announced over the loudspeaker at the Douglas Rec Center pool. Situated around the perimeter of the pool, already cleaning up from their lone home meet of the season, members of the Bearcats swim team beamed with pride as they each flashed a smile.
Michael Gifford picked up two more state-qualifying times and seven different Bearcats earned top-five finishes to lead Douglas to a dominant win at their home invitational Saturday morning. The Cats finished with 417 points, ahead of 4A Natrona County (275) and Newcastle (261).
“This was pretty exciting for us,” head coach Baxter Heinert said following the win. “We had a lot of good performances today, we continue to get better.”
One of those performances was from Cordell Veirgets, who took fourth in both the 50-meter freestyle and 400-meter freestyle after a strong showing at Powell and Cody the weekend before.
It was another weekend of improvements for the sophomore, who admitted that the home meet brought a sea of nerves along with it.
“I was actually more nervous to swim in front of our fans,” Veirgets said. “You’d think it would be the opposite, but it definitely felt nice to be in our own pool.”
Veirgets finished with a time of 31.61 in the 50-meter freestyle, just ahead of teammate Jonah Young who took fifth in 31.83.
In the 400-meter freestyle, he jumped ahead of the pack with a time of 36.14 after the first length and appeared to hold the advantage, but as the race progressed and each length of the pool took its toll on competitors, Veirgets felt it the most.
“At first I felt really good,” he said. “But as I got to about the fourth or fifth length, I just ran out of breath.”
This year is Veirget’s second year swimming for the Bearcats and fourth overall competitively. And as he’s both matured and learned more about himself in the pool, he’s taken the time to recognize the importance of pushing through difficult moments.
“There’s a lot of truth to pushing yourself and giving it your all,” Veirgets said. “It’s tough but you can learn a lot about yourself.”
After qualifying for the state meet in the 100-meter butterfly last weekend at the Gene Dozah Invite, Jeffrey Cuevas earned two top-finishes Saturday. He took first in the 200-meter freestyle with a dominant time of 2:41.32 and placed first in the 400-meter freestyle, touching the wall at 5:41.58, six seconds ahead of second-place.
Gifford added to his two state-qualifying times with a top finish in the 100-meter butterfly and 200-meter IM with times of 1:18.37 and 2:48.48, respectively. He has now qualified for four events.
Grant Igo also put forth one of his best performances of the season. He placed second in the 200-meter freestyle in 2:44.07 and also took fourth in the 100-meter freestyle with a time of 1:13.22. His showing caught the eye of one of his coaches in particular.
“Grant continues to surprise me,” Heinert said while cracking a smile. “He was right up there today in the 200 free, I was proud of him.”
Although they didn’t earn top finishes Saturday, Jack Winslow and Jacob Elliott continue to cut times and display the hard work and dedication that goes into practice each week for the Cats.
“They’re both getting better each day,” Heinert said. “We’re seeing that with their focus in practice and the results are starting to show.”
Whether it’s hard work in practice or support from their coaches and teammates, it’s all panning out for Heinert’s group of young swimmers.
Kade Guenther also had a big weekend for the Cats, taking second in the 100-meter butterfly and 100-meter breaststroke with times of 1:27.89 and 1:39.88, respectively. Junior Tony Back continues to shine in the pool, finishing second in the 200-meter IM and third in the 100-meter freestyle. He’s now qualified for the state meet in five different events and along with his top performances Saturday, helped Douglas take first in the 200-meter medley relay and 200-meter freestyle relay.
Douglas will travel to Lander this Saturday to compete in the Bruce Gresley Invite, one of the largest meets of the season and another opportunity to see teams from the other side of the state.
With just four meets remaining before the season finale in Gillette, the Cats feel good about where they stand.