February 25th, 2017

Valkyries float on to fifth straight swim title

Block_eric thorne

Eric Thorne

Staff Writer

Valkyries float on to fifth straight swim title
Sacred Heart's lone seniors Brooke Forde (right) and Colleen McDermott (left) led the Valkyries to their fifth straight title / photo: Eric Thorne

Paying homage to Louisville legend Muhammad Ali the theme for the Sacred Heart swim team for the KHSAA Swimming and Diving Championship Saturday night was a variation on the champ's famous quote: "Float like a butterfly; swim like a Valkyrie."

The team made their own boxing robes and donned the Valkyrie helmets to cheer on their fellow swimmers.

And boy did they ever swim.

Despite having only two senior swimmers – the Valkyries’ Brook Forde and Colleen McDermott led their youthful team in dominating the field to claim the team’s 28th state swimming championship at the University of Louisville’s Ralph Wright Natatorium. It was Sacred Heart’s fifth state title in a row and 84th for the school in all sports.

“Every year we try and come up with a theme for regionals and state and with his passing this year the girls thought they would draw from his confidence and strength,” Sacred Heart coach Jim Luebbe said.

Sacred Heart got off to a strong start as the relay team of Tonner DeBeer, Forde, Claire Donan and Allison Bauer claimed the 200-yard medley relay in 1:45.28.

“We had a couple of different options with the relays and decided to stack them with our strongest swimmers,” Forde said. “We could be certain to win those and when we did I knew it would be my job to keep the ball rolling after that. Getting off to that start helped the team get excited. When they swim well and come back to the team area with all of that enthusiasm it just seems to be contagious after that.”

Forde made good on her promise to carry on the strong start and followed that up by defending her title in the 200-yard freestyle by setting a state record in 1:45.03. The event is something she doesn’t swim often, but the senior feels that plays to her advantage.

“Setting the state record definitely gets the crowd excited and that’s how I think we needed to start,” Forde said. “It’s odd because other than high school meets I don’t swim that much freestyle, mostly IM events, so the off events are a lot less pressure and easier for me to drop time. It’s more fun and less pressure.”

Forde, who has committed to swim at Stanford, knew it would be her final time in the pool for SHA so she was focused on enjoying the moment.

“High school swimming is all about the team whereas club swimming is all about bettering your personal time,” Forde said. “You don’t necessarily have to swim your best time; you just need to score points for your team. The word FUN is definitely the theme for the high school state meet.”

In the 50-yard freestyle Christian Academy freshman Gabriela Albiero defended her state title that she won as an eighth grader last year in a time of 22.94.

DeBeer, a junior, then out-swam Albiero in the 100-yard butterfly finishing in 53.02 seconds.

“There were a lot of nerves coming into today, but we all met at one of the girl’s houses today to channel all our energy into getting ready,” DeBeer said. “We may not all be on the same club team but at Sacred Heart we are a special group and always cheering each other on.”

Notre Dame kept up the pressure on the Valkyries as Sophie Skinner won her third straight title in the 100-yard freestyle in 49.89, just .10 off her state record.

Forde, was back in the pool for the 500-yard freestyle and bested her state record time winning easily in 4:39.87.

With her Valkyrie teammates cheering right next to her SHA freshman Donan battled for a second place finish in the 100 Breaststroke from lane eight in 1:03.04, behind Collegiate’s Kaylee Wheeler (1:02.00) and just ahead of CAL’s Rachel Howard (1:03.32).

“Oh this was such an exciting day. I didn’t know what to really expect and just wanted to swim well, but never thought I would finish second,” Donan said with a huge grin. “I’m used to swimming by myself and really liked it out there, and boy did I hear my team screaming for me. It felt so awesome.”

The atmosphere for Donan was exhilarating.

“This is so much fun swimming in the state meet,” Donan said. “I can’t believe what a feeling it has been. To help get us started on the relay with great swimmers, and then to win the team title is incredible.”

DeBeer continued her strong day winning the 100-yard backstroke in 53.94, while teammates Grace Huber and McDermott finished fifth and eighth respectively.

“I’m so happy with my day getting two best times individually and we won the two relays so it was awesome being part of that,” DeBeer said.

However, as tears started to swell in her eyes McDermott could only look around the natatorium.

“I just wish this moment could stop in time. All the memories of the past four years are just coming back and realizing I was on four state winning teams,” McDermott said. “I’m just sad I’m moving on from such a great team.”

While her day didn’t go as well as she had hoped individually, McDermott’s swimming days aren’t behind her yet as she will be in the pool next year at Miami of Ohio.

“It’s pretty amazing to think about how incredible all this has been and reflecting back on what small part I played in history here,” McDermott said. “I remember sophomore year and scoring a point for my team and getting to receive a medal with my Valkyrie helmet on and that was special. I’m glad I could carry on the Valkyrie pride and pass that onto the younger girls this year.”

Luebbe, who won the Tim Cahill Outstanding coach award, was very proud of the leadership his seniors showed and strong performances of his young swimmers.

“Brooke and Colleen are so special and I appreciate all they’ve done for us. And to watch Claire swim so well in lane eight to get a second place finish was exciting,” Luebbe said.

The final event, the 400-yard freestyle relay, saw SHA bookend a memorable day as DeBeer, Sophia Miller, Bauer and Forde outdueled Notre Dame by .85 seconds and nearly broke the state record set by SHA last year.

Forde was named both the outstanding meet competitor and the Midway University KHSAA female student athlete of the year.

“All my teammates stepped up to make that a great last race for me and told me they were going to win it for me and that meant so much. I couldn’t let them down when I stepped up on the blocks for the anchor leg,” Forde said. “This chapter in my swimming life is one that I’ll never forget and it’s kind of bittersweet it has to end. I’m proud to be part of such an incredible Sacred Heart legacy.” 


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