Athletes from nearly every high school sport in Idaho have competed for an elusive Idaho-shaped blue trophy and state championship banner at the end of the season for a number of years now.
For the first time, swimmers had the opportunity to compete for those trophies and banners this year thanks to the Idaho High School Activities Association sponsoring last week’s state championships. Idaho Falls was one of four teams Saturday at the West Boise YMCA to receive an Idaho-shaped blue trophy and banner upon winning the 4A girls swimming state title, and getting to hold them was a moment the Tigers won’t soon forget.
“The swimming trophies weren’t as cool (in previous seasons),” said sophomore Tayla Liddle in a phone interview Sunday evening. “We were really excited. We forgot about the banner till they gave it to us.”
Tigers head coach Liz Grimes also forgot about the banner until it was brought out, and the sight of it brought about many emotions.
“When the girls got up on the podium and they brought that banner up, it was very emotional for me,” Grimes said Monday by phone. “It really kinda closed the deal. Yes, we have made it. We really did this. It meant a lot. They knew it would be something the school would be able to look up to.”
The Tigers claimed the 4A girls swimming state title 181-160 over Bishop Kelly, the same team which took the 2017 title by two points over Idaho Falls. Liddle and teammate Kailee Puetz said they didn’t follow team scores closely until Saturday, but Grimes and her assistant coaches followed them closely enough that they did some calculating Friday night.
Grimes said the Tigers entered the state championship not entirely sure of the times coming from other districts and had to carefully consider what events their swimmers entered. Those decisions--particularly the ones involving 400-yard freestyle and 200-yard medley relay team members Liddle, Kailee Puetz, Karlee Puetz and Alyvia Casperson--paid off in spades.
“I knew we had a really good chance before Saturday even started,” Grimes said. “To be first (place), it wasn’t quite clear until I showed up on Friday and things played out the way they did. Things can always change. Twenty points is a big lead, but one relay DQ and that’s it. Really, those girls can do great in a lot of those events. It was a matter of what they wanted to shine in.”
They indeed shined. They won both the 400-yard freestyle and 200-yard medley relays, the latter of which was a near 12-second victory margin.
“It’s nice to have one relay you’re not stressing over,” Grimes said with a laugh. “We had contemplated putting them in a different relay. We decided to keep them all in there. Sure enough, they were way, way ahead.”
Kailee Puetz, a senior, said before each relay, she and her relay teammates would huddle together and talk about why they were swimmers.
“We took it back to the very first day,” she said Monday by phone. “We have this quote: ‘We have to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.’ We knew the race would hurt, but we knew success would never come out of your comfort zone.”
Puetz also shared a powerful moment with younger sister Karlee, a freshman, in the 4A girls 200-yard IM ‘A’ final. Kailee won in 2:12.58 and Karlee took second in 2:17.52, holding off third place finisher Macey Cannon of Nampa by almost a full second to complete an I.F. 1-2 finish.
“Honestly, it was probably one of the greatest moments in my entire life,” Kailee said. “My sister and I have been swimming together on the same club team for seven or eight years now. It was so sweet to see her battle it out and take the win over the third place finisher.”
Both Puetz sisters as well as Liddle produced quite the medal haul in individual event ‘A’ finals Saturday. Liddle won the 200-yard freestyle ‘A’ final in 1:58.45 by a little more than four seconds and the 500-yard freestyle ‘A’ final in 5:24.80 by almost six seconds, surpassing her early season goal of reaching an ‘A’ final at state.
“I had that goal and I just really wanted to achieve it,” Liddle said. “After going into prelims, it was like kind of expected to make ‘A’ finals just looking at the competition. I knew I’d be top eight. I didn’t know it’d be top three.”
In addition to her 200-yard IM ‘A’ final gold, Kailee Puetz won the 100-yard breaststroke ‘A’ final in 1:06.64 (almost seven-second victory margin). Karlee claimed a silver in the 100-yard freestyle ‘A’ final in 55.63 seconds, taking second by 0.18 seconds.
Grimes said I.F. will have several swimmers returning with state experience next season, as only three of I.F.’s girls who traveled to state are seniors. She anticipated the Tigers to be in the state title hunt this year after taking second to Bishop Kelly by two points last year, and anticipates next season’s chances to also be promising.
“I knew we had a really good chance because of the previous two years,” Grimes said. “I think we still have a chance next year, too. Those girls will continue to get faster every year. We have some freshmen that started and are really excited about competing in club.”
The state title allowed Grimes’ seniors to go out on a high note. Kailee Puetz joined her first swim team at age seven to learn how to swim because her parents ‘didn’t want her to drown’ on one of her dad’s fishing trips. She hated the sport at first, and she laughs at that memory now as a member of a state championship team from the first IHSAA sponsored state meet.
“Without swimming, I wouldn’t be who I am today,” she said. “I hated it at first because it required physical effort. Once I got into racing, I realized I loved it. The first day (the IHSAA) announced it would be a sanctioned sport in Idaho was a life changer. We just know we’re being represented properly. It was so, so special that we could take the win the first year it was an actual sport.”