• Jaguars set sights higher

  • Two weeks into the regular season, Errich Oberlander still didn’t really know what he had.

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  • Two weeks into the regular season, Errich Oberlander still didn’t really know what he had.
    The Blue Springs South girls swimming coach typically can get a feel for his team’s potential within the first week or two of practice – and certainly after the first dual meet or two.
    But this season was different. After two duals, Oberlander still didn’t have a clue. Then, his team surprised him by winning the Independence Invitational. A week later, the Jaguars followed that performance up by winning the COMO Invitational in Columbia for the first time. Suddenly, Oberlander started to realize this group was capable of a little more than he initially expected.
    “This team kind of shocked me,” Oberlander said. “I’m not afraid to admit it because we did some things this year I didn’t expect.”
    Topping the Jaguars’ list of accomplishments was their first Suburban Conference championship since 2000 with the Big Six title two weeks ago. After that breakthrough, South is now eying a top-10 finish at the MSHSAA State Championships, which begin with today’s preliminaries at the St. Peters Rec-Plex in suburban St. Louis.
    Sophomore Kayla Canon, who will swim in the 100-yard backstroke and the 200 medley relay, said the team’s confidence exploded following the triumph at COMO. That had a major impact on their day-to-day approach in practice.
    “It was a lot more focused,” she said. “We definitely knew we had something to work for and we were going to do that. We went out there and swam our best every day and trained that way.”
    The best part of this surge, Oberlander thinks this thing has some staying power. Of South’s 15 state qualifiers, nine are underclassmen and seven are freshmen or sophomores.
    “I don’t want to just every once in a while put together a decent team,” Oberlander said. “I want to build this thing so it lasts, to where year after year we’re competing for that conference title, going down and being a top-10 team at state every year.”
    Oberlander said the contributions made by girls in the younger classes like Canon is what separated this team from those of year’s past, but he was quick to add that his veterans were also invaluable.
    Some of the old bedrocks the Jaguars will continue to rely on include seniors Morgan Connors and Emily Zweerink. Connors will swim in the 100 and 200 freestyle and will also compete in multiple relay events. Zweerink qualified in the 100 and 50 freestyle as well as a pair of relays.
    “I’ve watched freshmen come up and drop monster times that took me two or three years to get to,” Zweerink said. “The fact that that’s their starting point tells me they’re only going to get better.
    Page 2 of 2 - “I’m so honored that I could just be a part of this.”
    Also among that veteran core, senior Bre Schlenger will have a shot at a state championship in the diving event. Schlenger’s state placing has actually worsened each season – from third as a freshman to fourth as a sophomore and sixth last year – but Oberlander said that’s because the state field has gotten better each year. Schlenger’s performance, he said, has improved every year and she’s always been a consistent source of huge points.
    “Bre, she’s something special,” said Oberlander, who said sophomore Allie Steinhauser also has a shot at a top-16 diving finish. “She’s really good at what she does. It all depends if Bre’s on Saturday morning and if she’s feeling it. She could finish anywhere from first to sixth.”
    Kailey Paris, Anna Munoz, Jansynn Radford, Sydney Dillon, Bailey Barnett, Maddie Scott, Leza Dorrance, Alison Henderson, Alexis Kulash and Britney Machin will help fill out the rest of South’s three relay teams.
    “We’re just going to go in and finish the season strong,” Canon said. “And hopefully we’ll get a few state medals. We’re going for it.”

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