Jackson rallies to tie Richland, captures share of 4A team state title

FEDERAL WAY — What started as a great day for the Jackson girls swimming team ended much better than that.

After earning a first-place finish and two second-place finishes in the first three events of the 4A state swimming and diving meet at the King County Aquatics Center on Saturday, the Timberwolves won the final two events of the night to catch for Richland for a share of the state championship, each with 169 points.

The Timberwolves entered the final event, the 400-yard freestyle relay, in fourth place, 12 points behind the leader Richland. After falling behind early in the race, a pair of sophomores rallied Jackson to the win. Swimming the third leg, Nicole Limberg claimed the lead for Jackson and the anchor Madison Pressler secured it by touching the wall first.

Prior to the Timberwolves’ win in the 400 freestyle relay, Limberg had won her first individual state title with a win in the 100 breaststroke and freshman Chloe Limargo had won her heat in the same event to place ninth. Limberg and Limargo combined for 29 points in the event, which got Jackson within striking distance of the Bombers.

“At the beginning (of the meet) I was like, ‘Oh, we can win,’” Limberg said. “Then I kind of got down, but then I was like, ‘Oh, we can win again.’”

Jackson coach Drew Whorley said he was focusing on the individual races as the meet was close to concluding and wasn’t aware how close his team was to a championship.

“I knew that we could win the last three heats,” Whorley said. “I was focused on each individual race and that was what I was tasking each girl with. Nicole and I talked about her winning the 100 breaststroke. We talked about winning the 400 freestyle relay. I told Chloe to go up and win her heat in the 100 breast.

“I’m just fortunate that these kids are good listeners. They take instruction well,” Whorley added with a laugh.

Jackson opened the meet with a second-place finish in the 200 medley relay, which immediately jump started what would be a big night for the Timberwolves.

Pressler quickly followed by winning the 200 freestyle, her second state championship in the event in as many years of high school.

“I’m happy,” Pressler said after her victory. “I was crying when I got out of the pool. That was kind of unexpected.”

Jackson continued its stellar start with Limberg finishing second in the 200 individual medley, an event she placed fifth in a year ago. Her time of 2:06.14 was just .42 seconds behind Kentlake’s Laura Williams.

While Jackson had a lull in the middle of the competition, other Wesco 4A swimmers used that time to shine.

Mariner junior Brianna Lucien won her second consecutive state championship in the 500 freestyle, narrowly edging Richland’s Claire Schaef. Lucien and Schaef finished tied for first in Friday’s preliminaries, something quite rare in the long-distance event.

“We were both kind of in shock and we knew we were in for a good race today,” Lucien said. “She put up a good fight. I was pretty surprised, but I’m really happy with it.”

Monroe’s Cathryn Armstrong, who signed her letter of intent to swim at Michigan State on Wednesday, joined the state championship party after Lucien, winning the 100 backstroke. It was Armstrong’s first state championship.

“It ended with a bang since it’s my last year,” Armstrong said. “I’m super-excited.”

While Armstrong was busy winning the race, Pressler moved from the eight spot she qualified from up to fifth, which was the beginning of Jackson’s rally.

Limberg followed with a win in the 100 breaststroke setting the stage for the dramatic final race.

“At that point, you’ve got all this amazing momentum and inertia moving you towards (the last race) — and confidence, not just individually, but collectively,” Whorley said. “You put all that together on a relay, and that’s when stuff happens.”

The day that started so well for Jackson, ended with Whorley negotiating a home for the state championship trophy for the next year. Richland will keep the trophy until the boys state meet in February, then Jackson gets the trophy until next year’s girls state meet.

“Richland has a long strong proud tradition of performing strong at this meet,” Whorley said. “It’s an honor to share this with them.”

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