Early bird gets the state record

Posted: Sunday, November 09, 2003

Getting up early paid off one more time for Soldotna senior Abby Kiffmeyer.

After waking up two hours before she had to Saturday morning, Kiffmeyer won the 100-yard butterfly and set a state record in winning the 100 backstroke at the state swimming and diving championships at Bartlett High School.

Kiffmeyer, who also helped SoHi's 200 medley relay to a second and SoHi's 400 freestyle relay to a school record and a fourth, was named female swimmer of the year for her efforts.

"I wasn't happy with how I swam (in Friday's preliminaries)," said Kiffmeyer, who got up at 6 a.m. Saturday. "When I woke up this morning, for some reason I had a really good feeling about the day.

"I told my mom, 'This is a good sign.'"

Kiffmeyer's performance was the biggest highlight for Kenai Peninsula swimmers at state. Both the SoHi girls and boys lost their state crowns, with the girls finishing third and the boys finishing tied for sixth.

Seward sophomore Jacqueline Van Driessche provided the peninsula with its only other state title. Van Driessche won the 100 breaststroke to take home the first state swimming title in Seward's history.

In meet highlights, male swimmer of the year Travis Williams led the Lathrop boys to their first state title, while the Service girls turned in a dominant effort to take their third state title in four years.

Kiffmeyer, who also won the 100 butterfly at state last year, has always been a talented swimmer. By her own admission, though, she was slow to develop the work ethic it takes to have a performance like Saturday's.

"This all started in January of this year," Soldotna coach Sohail Marey said. "Abby took a month and a half off after the high school season, and came back and said she was going to dedicate herself to swimming.

"You saw the results of that here today."

While Kiffmeyer's early rising Saturday served as a good omen, her success this year came due to a series of early wakeup calls throughout the season. She came to the pool for practice at 6 a.m., then joined her Soldotna teammates for another practice after school.

Kiffmeyer worked early and often to reach two goals Marey set for her at the beginning of the season. The first was to break 57 seconds in the 100 butterfly. The second was to beat the state record of 58.84 seconds in the breaststroke.

"When I first mentioned those goals at the beginning of the season, she asked me if I really thought she could get them," Marey said. "I told her, 'Abby, you're a talented swimmer. If you're going to work this hard, you're going to achieve some great things.'"

Kiffmeyer also is a nervous swimmer, so for the past three weeks Marey refrained from mentioning the two goals because he didn't want Kiffmeyer to be a basket case of nerves come Saturday.

Wondering about her coach's silence, Kiffmeyer went to Marey before the state meet and asked him if he thought she could still reach the goals. Marey told the swimmer he had coached since she was 9 years old, "Of course," and set the stage for Saturday.

In the butterfly, Kiffmeyer hit her goal by finishing in 56.75 seconds to beat the runner-up by 3.5 seconds and drastically improve on her personal best of 58.45 seconds. The state record in that event is 56.07 seconds.

The 100 backstroke would not be such a paddle in the park. Kiffmeyer received ferocious competition from Service's Julianne Fritcher. The two matched each other stroke for stroke, and both touched the wall with times beating the old state record.

Surprisingly, Kiffmeyer, who finished in 58.40 seconds, was not even aware of Fritcher, who finished in 58.72 seconds.

"I couldn't see her the whole race," said Kiffmeyer, whose previous best in the backstroke was 59.58 seconds. "She must have been right next to me the whole time. I don't know if I was subconsciously blocking her out, or what."

By finishing third, the SoHi girls hit a preseason goal of finishing in the top three at state.

The Stars also got a big boost from sophomore Eve Green. Green was fourth in the 200 freestyle and third in the 100 freestyle. She joined Karina Petersen, Marit Hartvigson and Kiffmeyer for the 200 medley relay, and Adrienne Marey, Petersen and Kiffmeyer for the school record in the 400 freestyle relay.

Petersen added a sixth in the 100 breaststroke for SoHi.

"I'm already looking forward to next year," said Green, who finished sixth in the state last year in the 200 freestyle. "I'm looking forward to getting even better times and even better places."

The Soldotna boys wanted a top-five finish at state, but had to settle for sixth. Nathan Grabowski had a solid day for the Stars, taking fourth in the 100 butterfly and sixth in the 200 freestyle.

Grabowski also helped the Stars to third place in the 200 medley relay and fifth place in the 400 freestyle relay. Leo Grasso also was on those two relays, and added a fifth in the 100 backstroke for the Stars.

Van Driessche, who also finished fourth in the 50 freestyle, beat Lathrop's Elise Alexander in a duel for 100 breaststroke laurels. Van Driessche pulled away late to swim a 1:08.38 and top Alexander by .65 seconds.

"I started stretching out my stroke as much as I could," Van Driessche said. "I wasn't going to let her get back out ahead of me."

Jacqueline's mother, Janet, started coaching swimming at Seward during the 1977-78 season.

Always known for producing talented swimmers from such a small student body, Janet finally broke through with a state title.

"I'm really proud that I could do this for my mom," said Jacqueline, who battled a strained right thigh muscle all year. "She's always made me work hard, and she's coached me since before I can remember."

Homer was the final peninsula team to score points at the state meet, taking 10th on the boys and girls side.

On the boys side, sophomore Kevin Wythe took third in the 500 freestyle and sixth in the 200 individual medley.

In the 500 freestyle, Wythe wasn't thrilled with his place as much as he was pleased by his time. His goal was to break five minutes. He came in at 4:59.68.

"It felt really good to look up at the clock and say, 'Hey, I just went under five minutes,'" Wythe said.

The Homer girls received a fourth in the 100 backstroke from Renae Rykaczewski.

Rykaczewski also helped the Mariners to a fourth in the 200 medley relay and a sixth in the 400 freestyle relay.

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