A one-meter-high diving board might not seem intimidating. But try fitting in a front flip double twister before you hit the water. Or a back one and a half pike. That’s what Colorado Academy Senior McKenzie Abbott has done with remarkable skill and consistency at every meet this season, culminating with her First Place finish at the Tri Peaks League Championship. Abbott was also named League Diver of the Year. At the State Championship, she set a new CA 11-dive record with 440.40 points and place Fourth in the state.
At the League Championship, Abbott beat the Second Place finisher by more than 30 points. Despite feeling a little shaky on her first dives, she “brought it all together and finished strong.”
“It was great to have my friends there watching me dive,” says Abbott. “The whole swim team has been so supportive, and I’m glad they had their successes also.”
“Kenzie is an amazing diver,” says Swim Coach Beckie Mutz. “She qualified for State at her first meet this season, and, throughout the season, she kept breaking her own records for points.”
Abbott has been diving since she was ten years old. “I love the adrenaline rush of jumping off a board and spinning as many times as I can,” she says. Yet, she will tell you her personal goal is to “stay calm and keep everything clean.” She loves the competition, but even more important to her is “having teammates I can count on and be best friends with for a long time.”
She credits her coach, Lise Kafka, for helping her steadily rise in state rankings over the past years. “She is the best high school coach I could ask for,” she says. “She knew I wasn’t happy with my first dives, and at the end of the meet, she said, ‘Can I see a smile now?’”
“It’s been a joy coaching her over the past four years, watching her evolve into a phenomenal diver and seeing her realize her potential,” says Kafka. “This year was especially exciting to see her have victories that she’s been working to achieve since her Freshman year.”
“[Kafka] works wonders with our girls,” adds Mutz. “She was a collegiate diver herself, and she can explain exactly what she wants them to do, and they just get up on that board and do it.”
The CA Swim Team placed fourth at the Tri Peaks League Championship.
“All our girls cut time and set personal bests,” says Assistant Coach Jason Koza. “We are so proud of the girls for handling the pressure and bringing their best. There was no better way to finish off the season.”
Five girls qualified to represent CA in State competition: Freshmen Kate McKean and Jo Rydberg, Sophomores Lucy Rakowski and Emily Silliman, and Seniors McKenzie Abbott and Anne Freeman. But, even for those swimmers who don’t advance to the highest levels of competition, swimming for CA can be a life-changing experience.
The hard work of swimming
“I didn’t know what I was getting into.”
That’s how Senior Lilly Clowes remembers her Freshman year on Swim Team. She was playing Lacrosse at that time and was looking for a way to stay in shape during the winter. By her own admission, she was “not a swimmer.”
“I could do the doggy paddle and freestyle and maybe swim 50 meters—maybe,” she recalls. “But Coach Beckie Mutz said to me, ‘Don’t worry, I will make you a swimmer.’”
Four years later, Clowes sets her alarm for 5:15 a.m. to swim a 4500-yard training session. She has come to love swimming for the friendships with her teammates, and because she finds swimming to be a great way to “destress and relax” on the days when practices are after school. “Whatever happens during the day, you can swim it all out and refocus before you go home and do homework,” she says.
Her favorite event is the 100-meter breast stroke which took her three minutes to finish when she first started competing. Now, she has cut her time to a personal best of 1:28. The stopwatch doesn’t lie, and that’s just one of the things she loves about swimming.
“Your improvement is so tangible,” she says. “When you cut your time, you realize that’s what all the hard work is about.”
She gives a lot of credit for her success to Mutz. “She is one of the most kind, uplifting, positive people I have ever met,” she says. “She has done a great job building the swim program.”
The ‘little mothers’
For her team of 20 swimmers, Mutz named not one, not two, but the entire group of Senior swimmers, to be team Captain. “They have all worked together to lead this team so well,” she says. “They make all grade levels feel supported and important, and the other girls have really responded.”
Mutz says her Seniors act as “little mothers” to the Freshmen. She also credits a great group of parents who support both the coaches and the girls with anything they need. And she praises the assistance she receives from Jason Koza, who will be leaving his position as Assistant Coach to spend more time at home with his own growing family. “He’s going to make a great dad,” Mutz says. “I know that because I see how he interacts with the girls.”
Koza has been with the team for six years. “I stayed so long because I feel like I can make a difference in these girls’ lives,” he says. “It is a pleasure to see how much the girls have matured since I taught them in Middle School.”
Some of the Swim Team’s strongest swimmers are Freshmen and Sophomores, and they all performed well at State so Mutz is already looking ahead. “It’s going to be very interesting to watch,” she says. “And it’s going to be fun!”
Some stats from State
With just 6 competitors, CA finished 25th out of 42 3A teams.
Lucy Rakowski, Kate McKean, Jo Rydberg, and Emily Silliman dropped 1.6 seconds and came in 7th in consult finals for the 200 freestyle relay in 1:48.90
Lucy Rakowski, Anne Freeman, Kate McKean, and Emily Silliman dropped 10.4 seconds and came in 15th in consult finals for the 400 freestyle relay in 4.01.19.
Anne Freeman, Kate McKean, Lucy Rakowski, Jo Rydberg, and Emily Silliman all had personal best-time swims in their individual events during preliminaries.
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