ST. PETERS, Mo. — Nine is fine for the Rockhurst boys swimming and diving team.
By GREG UPTAIN
Special to the Star
The Hawklets used a strong start in the diving competition and steady swimming throughout the rest of the day in winning their ninth straight title at the Missouri state swimming and diving championships Saturday at the Rec-Plex.
“I couldn’t be more proud of them,” Rockhurst coach Paul Winkeler said. “It’s different every year. Each year is trained differently. Each year, the team is tapered differently. When these kids grow up around this environment and understand what our expectations are, they’re used to what we ask of them each and every year.”
Hawklets senior Louis Behnen was able to get his coveted 500-freestyle title, but not without a fight from Francis Howell’s Ryan Baker. Behnen’s time of 4:29.05 was just enough to edge the 4:29.32 from the hard-charging Baker, who was the event’s defending champion.
“That race was one of the hardest races I ever swam in my life,” Behnen said. “My strategy was to go out hard and try to keep on, and his strategy was to come back harder in the second half. By that last turn on the last 25, we were about even and I just had to put my head down and push as hard as I could. It was the most exhilarating thing I’ve done in my life.”
The morning one-meter diving competition offered the meet’s first opportunity for points, and Rockhurst took full advantage, as freshman David Knopke compiled 415.85 points as he won the event.
“I felt pretty good,” Knopke said. “It was really tough because some dives I didn’t really hit that well and then some I did.”
Meanwhile, sophomore Zack Cook (355.90) took third and senior Tim Richards (332.35) placed sixth. The 49 combined points that trio picked up helped propel the Hawklets on their way to victory.
“It’s a great accomplishment to get that many points from diving and contribute to the team total,” Rockhurst diving coach Sharon Prothe said. “I always say diving is an event of swimming just like the breaststroke, and Rockhurst really embodies that diving is important and not separate.”
Park Hill South senior Liam Huffman pulled off the first stunner of the day by winning the 200-free in 1:40.79 after coming in with just the fifth-fastest preliminary time (1:43.47).
“I’ve wanted to do this since freshman year. My coaches and I have been training for this, and they’ve been telling me all year, ‘You can do it,’ ” Huffman said. “Yesterday, I probably didn’t try as hard as I could have on the front half, but today I was like, ‘All right, let’s actually do this,’ so I did, and it seemed to work out for me.”
Lee’s Summit senior Zach Knoche was the other individual champion Saturday with a time of 57.70 in the 100-breaststroke, topping Rockhurst sophomore Alex Albracht (58.94) and Staley junior Nathaniel Vawter (59.39).
“Let’s just say it’s a real nice finish to a season and a career. It feels exactly like I hoped it would,” Knoche said. “Especially in the sport of swimming. All the hard work we put into coming to this one meet and to see it all pay off is really gratifying.”