Conway Lady Cats win state swimming title

By Donna Stephens Originally Published March 24, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated March 22, 2013 at 9:50 a.m.
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Landen Ward with the Conway High School swim team practices the butterfly stroke at the Farris Center pool on the University of Central Arkansas campus.

For the first time in 25 years, Conway’s Lady Wampus Cats are the state high school swimming champions.

“For the last past five years, we were capable, real capable, but everybody got sick or didn’t do as well as expected,” said Christie Rye, who is in her third season as head coach of the Lady Cats and Wampus Cats after serving as assistant under Laura Crow for a few years. “This year was so amazing. It was a flawless meet. Everybody was there, feeling good. Not one person had a bad swim; they either bettered their place or bettered their time.”

At the state meet at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, the Lady Cats scored 304 points, ahead of Bentonville, the perennial power, with 290. Cabot took third with 161; the rest of the top 10 included Mountain Home, 153; Jonesboro, 141; Bryant, 119; Springdale, 105; Rogers Heritage, 103; Fayetteville, 102; and Mount St. Mary, 95.

“We only won by 14 points, so it came down to the nitty-gritty,” Rye said. “During the meet, I never let the kids know where we stood. I just told them to do their best. I didn’t want anybody to get a big head. I would rather them think they’re behind.”

In the final event, the 400-yard freestyle relay, Conway came in second to Bentonville. Jocelyn Woo, who won two individual events and was on two winning relay teams for Conway, looked at Rye and said, “Another year, and we didn’t get the state championship.”

Woo thought the Lady Cats had to win the relay to win the state title.

“I wasn’t following up on the scores, and what I heard last was if we won the relay, we’d win,” Woo said. “I looked at my coach, and she said, ‘Congratulations, you’re a state champion.’ That made it sweeter.

“It felt amazing,” Woo added, remembering the third-place finish her freshman year and runner-up standing when she was a sophomore and junior. “It felt worth it. After three years of not being able to get it done, it just pushed us more and more.

“Maybe the fourth time was the lucky try.”

In 2012, several Lady Cats were plagued by sickness during the state championships. Rye remembered Woo having a temperature of 104 a few days before.

“When she got in the water, it was 101,” Rye said. “We should’ve won, but you came in knowing everybody was sick, so you do the best you can. This year, it was just perfect. We had kids seeded 13th and placing third, seeded 16th and finishing eighth.

“We couldn’t ask for a better meet.”

The Conway girls won the 200-yard medley relay (Corissa Calico, Woo, Annie Courtway and Amanda Crnic) in 1:52.11, nearly 10 seconds better than runner-up Jonesboro; 200 individual medley (Woo, 2:09.32); 100 butterfly (Woo, 57.89); and 200 freestyle relay (Woo, Courtway, Casey Ragsdale and Calico, 1:39.69).

The Lady Cats also scored in the 200 free (Laura Bloomfield, fifth, 2:03.95, and Crnic, ninth, 2:06.97); 200 IM (Karis Martin, 14th, 2:39.30); 50 free (Ragsdale, fifth, 25.88); 1-meter diving (SondraClaire Sellers, tied for eighth, 240.45, and Allie Mathis, 12th, 213.00); 100 butterfly (Calico, second, 59.59; Courtway, sixth, 1:02.44; and Carly Ebiniger, 15th, 1:12.65); 100 free (Ragsdale, fourth, 56.87); 500 free (Bloomfield, third, 5:28.69; Crnic, fifth, 5:35.00; and Martin, 16th, 6:31.46); 100 back (Calico, second, 58.51); and 400 freestyle relay (Crnic, Bloomfield, Ragsdale and Courtway, second, 3:48.06).

Of those qualifying for state, Woo, Calico, Courtway and Mathis are seniors.

“They were exactly what they needed to be — super amazing this year,” Rye said of her senior class.

She said the seniors had swum competitively since they were 9. Woo started swimming with the Conway AquaKids at age 6. She said she would swim collegiately next year but wouldn’t make her college choice until closer to graduation in May.

Rye, who taught in Russellville 17 years before moving to Conway as an art teacher in 2005, said the Lady Cats would have plenty more talent in the future.

Conway’s boys team, led by senior Tyler Crosson, a Louisiana State University signee, took fourth with 188 points, behind Bentonville, 430; Little Rock Central, 222.5; and Little Rock Catholic, 217. The rest of the top 10 included Fort Smith Southside, fifth, 151; Rogers Heritage, 129; Fayetteville, 110; North Little Rock, 103; Siloam Springs, 103; and Mountain Home, 101.

“The boys team came a long way this year,” Crosson said. “I’m really proud how we did, and obviously the girls had a fantastic season. I’m ecstatic.”

The Wampus Cats won the 50 free (Crosson, 20.60); 200 free relay (Hayden Lemons, William Bryden, Isaac Powers and Crosson, 1:29.37); and 100 back (Crosson, 50.77).

Conway also scored in the 200 medley relay (Bryden, Crosson, Powers and Lemons, third, 1:41.25); 50 free (Bryden, third, 21.79); 1-meter diving (Ethan Washispack, sixth, 245.80); 100 butterfly (Bryden, third, 52.43 and Powers, 10th, 56.67); 500 free (Harrison Dawson, 15th, 5:32.54); and 400 free relay (Ryan McGhee, Royer Ramirez, Lemons and Powers, eighth, 3:41.36).

“It’s really rewarding for me and the other guys who train together,” Crosson said. “It’s just rewarding that it’s really paid off.”

None Donna Stephens can be reached at .

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