THORNTON – The Veterans Memorial Aquatic Center was bristling with drama heading into he Class 3A 400-yard freestyle relay.

And then St. Mary’s Academy took all away by the third leg of the race. The Wildcat team of Riley Mills, Blair Franciscus, Kate Challender and Caitlin Crysel blew away the field to set a 3A record in the event, taking the win in 3:34.04.

That win also crowned them as the 3A team champion, the first girls swim team title in school history.

“The girls just swam with their hearts,” coach Kelly Shipley said. “I was not expecting that. The 4-free I was hoping for, the 2-free not at all. It was the girls bringing their A-game and just swimming with their hearts.”

The 200 medley relay was no problem at all as the Wildcats finished nearly three seconds clear of Glenwood Springs. Sitting in Lane 3 for the 200 freestyle, they put together a stunning performance and touched in 1:43.40, 16-hundredths of a second faster than Glenwood.

It was one of several jaw-droppings of a thrilling finals session at the VMAC.

Mills may have provided the biggest stunner as she edged out Evergreen’s defending champion, Finley Anderson, in the 100 butterfly by one-hundredth of a second. Anderson later claimed the 100 backstroke and her teammate Tallaby Riddle set the 3A record in the 500 freestyle with a time of 5:00.91.

The 100 fly title for Mills was her second of the night as she also won the 50 freestyle.

But perhaps the overall night belong to Crysel. She claimed her fourth title in the 200 individual medley and set a 3A record along the way, touching in 2:03.11.

“It means a lot,” Crysel said. “It’s a confidence booster, but I also just love that race. Every year there is someone new that I get to compete against and I get to meet and become friends with. I’m so grateful for the opportunity.”

With her win in the 100 freestyle, she became just the third swimmer in state history to win 10 individual events at state. Cheyenne Mountain’s Anna Trinidad and Regis Jesuit’s Missy Franklin are the other two.

Not to be forgotten, Wellington’s Cody Monajjem won the 200 freestyle to get the school its first individual state champion in its history.

The Wildcats held the team from the start after claiming the 200 medley relay, but taking down the five-time defending champion was always going to be a tall task.

“I have so much admiration for Evergreen,” Shipley said. “It is such a great school. The fact that they helped push the girls to get the times they did says a lot about them as well.”

With three A-finalists in the 100 backstroke, the Cougars cut into the team lead heading into the 400 freestyle relay. They trailed St. Mary’s Academy by just five points entering the race. Teams receive 48 points for a relay win and 42 for second.

The situation was pretty cut and dry: If Evergreen won the race, it won the team title. But credit goes to the Wildcats. They stood on their head all night long and simply refused to let up through the four legs of the race.

“We weren’t expecting it, but it was such an amazing way to finish,” Crysel said. “This team is so awesome. I’m going to miss them so much. My sister is on this team. It was so fun. So enjoyable.”

Class 3A girls swim champions

  • 200 Medley Relay: St. Mary’s Academy 1:48.39
  • 200 Freestyle: Cody Monajjem (Wellington) 1:52.69
  • 200 Individual Medley: Caitlin Crysel (St. Mary’s Academy) 2:03.11*
  • 50 Freestyle: Riley Mills (St. Mary’s Academy) 23.74
  • Diving: Kailyn Japuntich (Gunnison) 457.40
  • 100 Butterfly: Riley Mills (St. Mary’s Academy) 55.70
  • 100 Freestyle: Caitlin Crysel (St. Mary’s Academy) 51.06
  • 500 Freestyle: Tallaby Riddle (Evergreen) 5:00.91*
  • 200 Freestyle Relay: St. Mary’s Academy 1:43.40
  • 100 Backstroke: Finley Anderson (Evergreen) 54.18
  • 100 Breaststroke: Josie Stahl (Liberty Common) 1:05.46
  • 400 Freestyle Relay: St. Mary’s Academy 3:34.04*

* – Designates a 3A meet record