LINCOLN — Lincoln Pius X junior Katie Stonehocker is accustomed to reaching the top of the medal podium at the state swimming meet. As she surveyed the second- and third-place finishers to her left and right, the faces were familiar, too.
With a second straight gold- medal performance in the girls 100 breaststroke Saturday, Stonehocker again came out on top of one of the state’s most hotly contested races, holding off Omaha Marian sophomore JoJo Randby and freshman Olivia Dendinger of Papillion-La Vista/Papillion-La Vista South.
All three competitors have reached the state’s all-time top 10 list in the event. Stonehocker climbed to No. 3 when she won last year’s gold medal in 1 minute, 2.43 seconds. Her winning time of 1:02.95 on Saturday wasn’t quite as fast, but her strong finishing kick allowed her to pull away over the final 15 yards.
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“I honestly didn’t know where I was at all in the pool. I just kind of swam it how I usually swim it,” Stonehocker said. “I was working on my glide the first 50, and then in my second 50 I just picked up my tempo and went after it.
“I do a lot of tempo work. I really try to push that last 12½ (yards). I speed up my tempo and I try to finish strong into the wall. I think that’s what got me the win.”
Stonehocker’s time Saturday was slightly behind her prelim mark of 1:02.56. But it was just enough to hold off a late surge from Randby, who trailed Stonehocker by .87 seconds at the 50-yard turn before the Marian sophomore nearly chased down the defending champion by swimming 32.81 over the final 50 yards.
“That’s the fastest second-50 split I’ve ever gone,” Randby said. “That’s exciting. I was just trying to race.
“Obviously, Katie is a really good breaststroker. She deserves that first place, but there’s a lot of good competition here. I’m just happy to represent my team.”
The second-place finish was the second silver of the day for Randby, who tied for second in the 50-yard freestyle with Omaha Westside’s Logan Kuehne. Stonehocker also earned a silver earlier in the day after finishing second to Lincoln Southwest freshman Allie Hathaway in the 200-yard freestyle.
Stonehocker said even though she was the defending champion in the 100 breaststroke, she was familiar enough with her top competitors to take nothing for granted. Stonehocker, Randby and Dendinger also have faced off in club swimming. Randby finished fifth as a freshman in last year’s 100 breaststroke final.
“That’s just not something I think about,” Stonehocker said. “I train all season to improve myself. I come here for another opportunity to improve myself, improve my time and represent my team.”
With all three being underclassmen, the same finishers could be on the podium next year in an event that has been known for dynasties. Since 1986, five girls have won at least three state titles in the 100 breaststroke. Next year, Stonehocker will attempt to become the first girl to win the event three years in a row since Millard North’s Jessie Bailis won four straight from 2001-04.
“I love going into a race that I’ve got amazing girls to race against,” Stonehocker said. “JoJo and Olivia, they’ve been swimming really great this year and last year. I swim with them during club, so I race them all the time. I think it’s so much fun to be able to race such great competitors.”