As the confidence level for a pair of Elkhorn/Elkhorn South swimmers has gone up this season, their times have steadily gone down.
Sydney Cole and Lauren Mayo had breakout performances Feb. 8 and 9 at the Metro Conference championship meet that earned both top seeds at the girls state swimming meet at the Devaney Center in Lincoln.
Cole earned the pole for the 200-yard individual medley and 500 freestyle while Mayo snagged the top seed for Friday’s 9 a.m. prelims in the 200 freestyle. Mayo, an Elkhorn South junior, also is the No. 5 seed in the 100 freestyle for the Stormin’ Antlers.
There were moments early in the season when both swimmers were struggling to post those kinds of times in a meet. They could do it in practice, but Stormin’ Antlers coach Jay Thiltgen said a bit of frustration crept in when those performances weren’t coming in the bigger meets.
“It’s been there all season long, but unfortunately it had been at practice,” Thiltgen said. “They hadn’t been on the record with those times, but they also didn’t rest during the season. A ton of confidence came with the rest they got before Metros.
“For both of them, it would be a big step just to be able to do the same thing, and hopefully better, at state.”
Knowing how fast they went without any rest before the conference meet was encouraging for both swimmers. Having success at that level is something Mayo believes will help her in Lincoln.
“I think it’s good for me, at least, that I can still swim fast while fellow competitors are resting and suiting,” Mayo said. “I’m a competitive person, and I have a lot of energy, but I’m able to relax and execute my swims.”
Mayo said she put too much pressure on herself at last year’s state meet after having a good Metro meet. She was overly concerned that she wouldn’t be able to match her marks.
That dropped Mayo into the consolation final of the 200 free with a time that was 2.68 seconds slower than what she had done at the conference meet. She did make the championship final in the 100, finishing eighth in the prelims before moving up to sixth in the final.
Mayo’s 1:57.33 in the 200 free was the second-best time of the season behind Lincoln Southwest senior Berkeley Livingston, but Livingston will be battling Cole in the 200 IM and 500 free.
There are three contestants — Laina Bayles of Omaha Westside, Olivia Theil of Lincoln Pius X and Allie Hathaway of Southwest — within one second of Mayo in that event.
Both of Cole’s winning times at the Metro meet are the best posted during the regular season.
Her 2:05.94 in the 200 IM is 1.80 seconds faster than No. 2 seed Elizabeth Richardson of Omaha Burke. Cole’s 500 time is 5:07.32, which is 5.42 seconds better than second-seeded Payton Kollmorgen of Lincoln East.
Cole, a junior at Elkhorn, admitted that the first part of the season wasn’t as smooth as she hoped it would be. Despite that, she remained focused on what was most important about the early meets.
“It was a little rocky and I wasn’t where I wanted to be,” Cole said. “But it wasn’t discouraging. At the duals and invitationals I was going for the points instead of the times. The environment at the bigger meets is more a function of how you swim when people are suited up, tapered and having those big drops.”
Like Mayo, Cole was excited to see the big drops at Metro without rest. Now she’s looking forward to seeing how much faster she can go with the rest.
“I’m not sure if I’m going to win, but I’m more concerned about dropping time than anything else,” Cole said. “In the past I think I was very caught up with names, maybe this person who has always beat me.
“This year something has changed for me, and that’s part of the reason why I’m better. I like the fight. It would be boring out by myself in the 500.”
Cole already knows what it’s like to win a state title on a different stage. She was the Class A editorial writing champion at the 2018 NSAA journalism competition.
The ideal end to this swimming season’s story would be individual and maybe even a relay gold medal for both Cole and Mayo with a high finish in the team race.
“I’ve been looking up to this team since the fifth grade,” Mayo said. “To help take this team to greater heights and seeds, that makes me very happy.”
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