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VERSAILLES -- Shelby County High School had state-qualifying finishes in four individual events and two relays en route to a combined team second-place finish in the Region 3 swimming and diving championships Saturday.
The girls' team took second place for the second year in-a-row, and the boys were fifth. Woodford County High School swept the boys' and girls' team competitions.
“It was really competitive,” Rocket senior Katie Johnson said, adding that the team was surprised they were named runner-up. “I think it reflects positively on us. A lot of the girls stepped up and did good the second day.”
Out of 24 events, the Rockets had top-12 finishes in all but five: the 50 freestyle, women’s diving, men’s 100 free, women’s 500 free and the men’s 400 free relay.
“We did a great job,” Rockets Coach J.P. LaVertu said. “We finished well. I’m very pleased with their effort. The intensity was there.”
One of the most exciting races was the often-overlooked men’s 500 freestyle, which is a 20-lap endurance test.
Junior John Ruble was favored after winning the preliminary race Friday by 6 seconds, and in the final, he led until the 12th lap, when Danville’s Byron Hempel pulled even with him. Then on the 13th lap, Woodford’s Newell Hicks pulled even with those two leaders.
On lap 17, Hempel started his kick, pulling half a body length ahead of Ruble. Then coming out of his flipturn for the final 25, Ruble described later, he caught a wave of water on his breath, choked and couldn’t breath for a couple strokes. He’d been saving his kick for that last bit.
“It was pretty tough. A few things went wrong,” he said.
But he held on for second place and a return trip to the state meet in Louisville. He said in all the day was a challenge because three of his four events were in the last hour of the meet.
Ruble finished fourth in the 100 backstroke, which he said was tougher than preceding 500. He went all out in the race.
“I gave it everything I could,” he said. “When I got out of the pool, I couldn’t see. I couldn’t breath. I just collapsed. I actually fell to the ground.”
“I couldn’t ask for more from an individual,” LaVertu said. “He never gets nervous. He never gets flustered by anything.”
Ruble’s younger brother, Sam, a seventh-grader whose motto is "I’m not addicted; I’m committed," won the 500 consolation heat and would have placed sixth in the final.
“I wish I had someone to push me,” he said after leading the entire heat. “I would have done better if I had someone next to me, like John.”
The brothers, along with sophomore Jordan Lohr and freshman Mitch Tunstall qualified with their time of 1 minute, 37.83 seconds in the 200 free relay. The relay placed fifth in the region but earned one of the state-wide at-large bids.
The lone Rocket to walk away with a first-place finish was senior Travis Adams in the 1-meter diving event. He beat Woodford’s Jay Tackett by a score of 346 to 312.
“Him being mentally tough enough to step up in their today and win the region – that’s tremendous,” LaVertu said.
Adams had not dived in a meet all season and had only practiced about four weeks before the regional because of a stress fracture. It took a few dives to adjust to the board and the atmosphere of competition, he said.
“I had a rough start,” Adams said. “An inward one-and-a-half was my first dive. I was short on the entry. It kind of threw off my next dive, my double.”
But Adams had structured his 11 dives in a way that he’d have some tried-and-true dives in the middle. When he nailed his sixth dive, a back dive straight, earning 7s from the judges, his confidence lifted. Adams will be returning to state for the fifth year in-a-row. He won Region 3 as a freshman and has finished as high as 19th in the state.
“Hopefully, I can make the final cut [to 16],” Adams said. “I’ve never been able to make the final cut and make that final day.”
For the Lady Rockets, Collin Kessinger will be the only swimmer competing in an individual event. She qualified with a second-place finish in the 100 breaststroke and an at-large bid with her 2:17.6 time in the 200 individual medley.
“She doesn’t really know how good she can be yet. She’s only a ninth-grader,” LaVertu said.
The 200-medley relay team (Callie Anderson, Kessinger, Haley Miller and Kellie Grigsby), was barely edged for second place by Elizabethtown High School in the finals, but the Elizabethtown relay was later disqualified.
Elizabethtown was disqualified in two relays and Scott County in one relay for swimming the incorrect lineup or swimming an individual who had exceeded the event limit.
But Shelby had a good chance of making the state meet with an at-large bid, and had won the relay event during Friday’s preliminary races.
“I think both days we gave it our best, and it was just tenths of a second,” Miller said.
Miller swam the butterfly leg of the relay. She later swam right on her best time to earn third place in the 100 butterfly. Anderson was fifth in that event, one of several events boasting two Shelby swimmers.
Miller said the swimmers had been very supportive of one another and credits first-year coach LaVertu with creating that atmosphere.
“He’s really made us a more unified team this year with all his team-spirit enforcing,” she said.