Kayla Tehrani, Aspen High girls swimming team heads back to state championship
Skiers will compete Friday and Saturday in Thornton
The Aspen High School girls swim team has embraced and even soared behind its “small but mighty” mentality over recent years.
But this winter, the Skiers have a little more heft than they’re used to.
“This has been the biggest team that I’ve had with the most number of girls who have ever qualified for state,” said third-year coach Katherine Keel. “It’s a really, really impressive statistic and is of no short measure. We have all three relays going to state this year, which is incredible. And we have seven girls swimming. … I’m really excited for that.”
Aspen is headed to the Class 3A state championship this week at the Veterans Memorial Aquatic Center in Thornton. Prelims are scheduled for Friday beginning at 10 a.m., while the 3A finals are set to begin at 4 p.m. Saturday.
The Skiers had an eight-athlete roster during the season, and seven of those will swim in Thornton. That group includes a trio of seniors, three more juniors and a freshman, some with extensive experience in the pool, and others who are relatively new to competition.
At the top of that list is senior Kayla Tehrani, who was named the Class 3A girls swimmer of the year after a strong showing at the state championship last winter as a junior. The Skiers finished second as a team in 3A a year ago, with Evergreen taking the 2021 state championship.
“She has been great. I think she responds really well to pressure,” Keel said of Tehrani. “She does really well when there is competition and people chasing her. One of my favorite ways to see her race is when she is slightly behind or when there is a little bit of a rivalry. It’s really cool to see her just light it up.”
Last season, Tehrani was part of Aspen’s state championship win in the 200-yard medley relay, and she also won the 100-yard butterfly. She enters this week’s meet seeded second in the 100 fly with a time of 57.03 seconds — which is faster than the 57.37 she posted in the state meet a year ago — with that relay coming in seeded No. 7 in the classification this week.
Tehrani also is a contender in the 100-yard breaststroke, where she is seeded No. 3 with a time of 1 minute, 8.19 seconds.
Tehrani, Laila Khan-Farooqi and Gemma Hill are the three seniors this season, a special group that helped pave the way for Keel’s success in her short three years as the team’s head coach.
Khan-Farooqi will contend for a top spot this weekend in the 200-yard freestyle, where she is seeded eighth, and the 100 free, where she is seeded 14th. Hill will be a key piece of all three relays, notably the 200-yard freestyle relay that is seeded No. 2 behind only St. Mary’s Academy.
“I felt like I had really big shoes to fill stepping into this role and those three have really guided me and helped me learn and support them in whatever ways they need,” Keel said of her senior trio. “They’ve been really great mentors and leaders in that sense, because three years ago I walked in being like, ‘I don’t know what this team is like or what you guys have done. Help me, help you.’”
Junior Lilly Huggard is another who could push for a top spot, coming in seeded seventh in the 200 IM. Junior Molly McManus also will compete individually in the 200 IM, although she finds herself much farther down the psych sheet.
Junior Eliza Marolt and freshman Mykenzie Roy will help round out Aspen’s relays at state, which includes the 400 free relay.
Despite its small numbers most years, AHS has continually been a powerhouse, highlighted by its 2017 state championship under former coach Kathleen Callahan in the first year 3A had its own classification.
Much like under Callahan, the Skiers still seem to find another gear come the state meet under Keel, who hopes for more of the same this week in the VMAC pool.
“It’s just a matter of everyone recognizing and then playing up to their strengths. We have a really deep team and a lot of people who are quite versatile,” Keel said.
“A lot of that learning throughout the season is trying on a bunch of different hats, where you try different events, you try different race strategy, you figure out what works for you and your body. And then hopefully our goal as coaches is to bring it all together by the end of the year and execute the plan we have been rehearsing and working so hard to do.”
The long drives to Denver to play competitive club softball and fine-tune her skills during the offseason are paying off for Glenwood Springs High School senior Kiera Larson.