During a practice a month into the season, Blue Springs swimmer Maisy Kurucz realized something.
She had never seen head coach Kevin Bigham without his beard. So she had a proposition for him.
“One day we were swimming and I looked at him and said, ‘Kevin, will you shave your beard if we win (the Suburban Big Seven Conference Championships)?’” Kurucz recalled. “Then he responded, '(Heck), yeah!'”
Tuesday, that dream scenario become a reality as he brought a barber apron to practice and a pair of electric clippers and let his swimmers shave off his beard to celebrate his team’s conference title won on Feb. 3. It was their first conference title since 2012, and the Wildcats are hoping to capture their first state plaque for a top-four finish in six years this weekend at the Missouri State High School Girls Swimming and Diving Championships in St. Peters.
“I feel like the ladies did a better job than I ever did,” Bigham said of his new, clean-shaven face. “The reason I have a beard is because I really don’t like shaving. I feel like it takes too much time. The girls took care of it today and it looks better than ever.
“My girlfriend and I are going out for a Valentine’s Day dinner and she’s going to be thrilled. Her gift is my new baby shaven face.”
Kurucz, the mastermind behind the shave, thought it would be a good motivational tool for the Wildcats.
“I thought it would be something fun to do,” she said, “ and give us a little more incentive.”
Kurucz has been a part of the program for four years, and never before has Blue Springs had as much success as it has this season during her tenure. During her freshman season, she was one of two people on the team to qualify for state. This season, Blue Springs has five times that amount going to the St. Peters Rec-Plex on Friday.
“We have come really far and it’s been fun to see how much everyone has grown as athletes,” Kurucz said. “And just have everything has changed so much.”
Added teammate Shaedyn Read: “He had that beard for too long.”
Not only have the Wildcats won their conference, they also went undefeated in duals and have qualified for 19 spots in different events for state, including all three relay teams.
Kurucz will compete in the 100- and 200-yard freestyles; Read will be in the 200 and 500 free; Carson Ludwig will be in the 100 and 200 free; Sierra Heuston will be in the 50 and 100 free; Gracie Lefholz will be in the 200 individual medley and 100 breaststroke; Annemarie Rehbein will be in the 200 IM and 100 breaststroke; Jenna Wright will be in the 50 free; Brenna Walsh will be in the 100 breastroke; and Natalie Sheehy and Katie Garten will be a part of the 1-meter diving competition on Saturday morning.
“It was really exciting. They released the heat sheet at 10 a.m. on Sunday,” Bigham said. “As soon as I woke up Sunday, I went to MSHSAA’s website and kept hitting refresh. Then when they finally posted the heat sheet and I saw all the girls who were close (to the automatic cut) that qualified, I was thrilled. I was sending emails and text messages. I can’t wait to see what happens.
“All of our girls have a chance to score. We have a great weekend ahead of us.”
Two swimmers with a good chance to win in individual events are Kurucz and Read. Kurucz currently is seeded sixth by time in the 200 free and seventh in the 100 free, while Read is seeded 11th in the 200 and third in the 500. Both of them are hoping to be the first girls to add their names to the list of all-state swimmers in Blue Springs history with a top-eight finish.
“I think I can for sure,” Kurucz said of making all-state. “That is my main goal for sure.”
Added Read: “I want to do that, too. I feel pretty confident going in. I have been training for this all season. I swam pretty well at conference, too, so that helped me get more confidence.”
That’s the same way the Wildcats say they feel about their relay teams. The 200 medley is ranked eighth, the 200 freestyle team is fourth and the 400 free is seventh.
“I am really excited about the 200 free,” said Wright, who will compete in all three relays. “I think we have a chance of getting first. The 400 free has also been strong all year.”
With so many relay teams and entries knocking on the door of all-state bids, Bigham is hopeful that his team can finish in the top four.
“The best is yet to come for these girls,” he said. “We really centered our taper on swimming well at state.”