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Broncos' Valmassei captures state diving title

By Greg Uptain
Special to The Examiner

ST. PETERS, Mo. – She wasn't down very many points, but Annica Valmassei knew she still needed to pick things up a bit.

The Lee's Summit North senior trailed Columbia Rock Bridge's Olivia Liddle by just over 5 1/2 points after the eighth round of the one-meter diving competition at the Missouri Class 2 Girls Swimming and Diving Championships on Friday at the St. Peters Rec-Plex. But she turned things on in her final three dives, as her total of 431.70 points was enough to hold off Liddle (412.35).

It was the first state title won by a Lee's Summit North boys or girls diver.

“I realized after eight that I wasn't in the leading position and I was a little nervous, but I had good dives coming up and I knew I could nail them,” Valmassei said. “After my ninth dive, I was like, 'OK, I got this. I can do it.' And I'm so happy I was able to finish it.”

Valmassei finished 18th in the state as a freshman before fourth and second-place finishes, respectively, the last two years, so she was able to complete the progression to the top spot.

“I was so glad to see it go up and I'm glad it never receded and always moved forward,” said Valmassei, who will dive next season at Davidson College, where her brother Daniel recently won the Atlantic 10 Conference men's diving title. “It feels so good. I came so close last year and I'm so glad that I could finish it off this year and put a candle on the top of my senior year.”

Blue Springs senior Shayla Aten will not be diving in college, so her sixth-place finish with 363.90 points holds extra special meaning one year after just missing the medal stand with a 12th-place effort.

“I wanted some bling. It's really bittersweet because I'm done,” Aten said. “The offseason was a little bit of a struggle because I couldn't start when I wanted to because of all the stuff that happened. But, once we did, it went good. It was just a really good season.”

Blue Springs senior Annemarie Rehbein swims to a sixth-place finish in the 100-yard breaststroke at the Class 2 state championship meet Friday at the St. Peters Rec-Plex. It was Rehbein's fourth straight all-state honor in that event.

After finishing second in the 100-yard breaststroke at last year's Class 2 meet, Blue Springs senior Annemarie Rehbein was poised to at least match that finish, if not ascend to the top, this year. But it wasn't to be, as she captured sixth place Friday. It marked the fourth straight year she had an all-state (top-eight) finish.

“Going into it, I obviously had higher hopes than what played out,” said Rehbein, who also finished 15th in the 200 individual medley. “I'm not too happy with the time, but I'm not mad at the race.”

Rehbein's time of 1 minute, 6.06 seconds was a shade slower than last year's 1:05.64, when she finished just 12-hundredths of a second behind Kirkwood's Alyssa Dennis, who won the event again this year by shaving more than a second-and-a-half off her time.

Blue Springs South's only individual in the top 16 was junior Kennedy Hecker, who tied for 15th in the 50 freestyle. Hecker was also anchored all three Jaguar relay teams, which all racked up top-16 showings.

“This is my first year doing an individual (event) at state,” she said. “So, to be able to do that is so exciting.”

Lee's Summit North sophomore Anna Hess just missed out on two medals with matching ninth-place finishes in the 50 free and the 100 butterfly.

The showing in the 100 fly was especially frustrating for Hess on two counts. First, her time of 59.57 was just one-hundredth of a second behind Eureka's Emma Kaemmerer. And second, Hess finished fifth in the event last year at state with a time of 58.40, so this year's output resulted in a step back.

“At first, I didn't notice that I was that close, so once I saw that, I was pretty disappointed,” Hess said. “It's just been a rough season for me overall. I haven't had the best training because of all the snow days we had, but we did the best we could.”

Lee's Summit North had the area's best team finish, compiling 59 points, which was good for 16th place. Freshman Erin Davis was 14th in the 100 backstroke (1:02.20).

“We had a great start to the day watching Annica have a full-circle moment,” Broncos coach Thomas Faulkenberry said. “The swimmers went, and I was really proud of the effort we gave today.”

Blue Springs tallied 29 points to come in 19th. I’yana Foster earned a 16th-place finish in the 500 freestyle (5:26.42).

“Always want to do better. That's the natural reaction,” Wildcats coach Kevin Bigham said. “But, definitely some things we're happy with, definitely some things we're gonna take away and learn from.”

Blue Springs South finished right behind the Wildcats in 20th with 18.5 points. Hecker, Amy Pollard, Kara Good and Micaela Richards were 16th in the 200 medley relay (1:55.72); Hecker, Good, Landry Johnson and Maelyn MacLean took 13th in the 200 free relay (1:43.06); and Hecker, Pollard, Johnson and MacLean finished 14th in the 400 free relay (3:46.65). Diver Guiliana Biscari finished 16th.

“We knew we didn't have the star power,” Jaguars coach Errich Oberlander said. “But, when we have one girl get in the top-16 in an individual event and we can put all three relays in, that just shows good team depth.”

CLASS 1: A pair of Grain Valley divers each earned honorable mention all-state honors with top-16 finishes in the Class 1 girls state championships held Saturday at St. Peters Rec-Plex.

Junior Hayden Meyer finished one spot away from first-team all-state honors, taking ninth place with a score of 352.00. Meyer moved up from 15th after preliminaries and 13th after the semifinals

Teammate Madison Rogers finished 11th at 336.90. Rogers moved up from 18th and 15th.

The 15 points Meyer and Rogers earned allowed Grain Valley to finish 31st as a team. Cor Jesu Academy of St. Louis won the team title at 236.