The loss of 11 seniors from last season’s team left Park Hill South girls’ swimming coach Tim Busenhart with more questions than answers entering this season.
By SAM McDOWELL
The Kansas City Star
As it turns out, there was nothing to worry about after all.
An impressive freshman class, coupled with the improvement of the six returners to the varsity squad, has set aside notions of a rebuilding year. Instead, the Panthers captured their 13th consecutive conference championship last Saturday at the Lee’s Summit Aquatic Center, winning the Suburban Red Conference title after 12 straight seasons of finishing on top of the Suburban Blue Conference.
Most impressively for the Panthers’ future, they won with seven freshmen in the lineup.
“We have an elite group of freshman,” Busenhart said. “But I think the key this year is we have good group camaraderie. The girls get along, they genuinely cheer for (one another). They’ve come together really well.”
Park Hill South started off in style last Saturday, opening with a victory in the 200-yard medley relay in 1 minute, 55.10 seconds, more than five seconds ahead of second-place Park Hill.
The Panthers didn’t slow down from there. Two events later, Tori Beeler won the 200 individual medley with teammates Olivia McLain and Mariah Ramirez finishing in second and third, respectively.
Park Hill South also occupied the top three spot on the podium in the 100 butterfly with Helen Yeater, Maggie Hickey and Kelsey Danielsen. The Panthers provided a repeat performance in the 100 breast stroke where Anna Riekhof, McLain and Ramirez were the first three swimmers to touch the wall.
Park Hill wrestling
In a way, the last two seasons in Park Hill senior wrestler Russell Coleman’s career is symbolic for the entire Trojans’ team.
High expectations. Championship aspirations. The finish line within sight.
But like Coleman, the Trojans fell short of the ultimate goal in 2010 and 2011. Coleman finished as the state runner-up in his weight division, while Park Hill placed in the top three in the team standings.
This year, both Coleman and the Trojans are planning to reach the top.
“I’d love to leave this year with a team tittle,” said Coleman, who is wrestling at 145 pounds. “An individual title would be awesome, too, but something about that team title is a little sweeter.”
The journey to the state tournament begins Friday with district championships in all four Missouri classes. Four wrestlers from each district will advance to state competition the following weekend in Columbia.
In Missouri Class 4, the state’s top-two ranked teams will provide a preview for next weekend when they compete for Class 4, District 4 titles Friday and Saturday at Lee’s Summit High School.
Park Hill is the No. 1-ranked team, sitting ahead of two-time defending state champion Blue Springs.
“The number one goal right now is to peak at the right time,” Park Hill coach Bill Erneste said. “I’d say we’re going into this thing with a careful confidence. It may look like we’re the favorite, but (Blue Springs) has five guns that have already proven they can do it. It’s going to be a challenge.”
Whereas Blue Springs is a team that is particularly strong at the top, the Park Hill Trojans will rely on depth. Eight wrestlers are considered to be among the top-five in their respective weight classes.
“To be honest, some of our other guys we weren’t sure about have since stepped it up,” Erneste said. “Our goal going into the district tournament is always to take all 14 guys to state. Is that realistic? Probably not. But I’m not ready to tell anyone we don’t expect them to make it.”