The battle waged in the Soldotna pool Friday afternoon between swimming sensations Madison Story of Homer and Lydia Jacoby of Seward wasn’t the first time the two young swimmers have gone head to head against the other.
Their history goes back much further than that, back to their earliest days in club swimming, when they were seven and eight years old.
But Friday’s symphony of chaos in the SoHi pool was one of the most spectacular.
Youth ruled the day as Story eked out the overall victory in the unique event, which pits all swimmers against each other in a combined five-event effort to determine the champion. Story, a Homer sophomore, defended her title from a year earlier, and denied the freshman Jacoby the trophy in her first attempt.
“Last year it was more me chasing the older girls,” Story said. “This year, I was planning my whole strategy around Lydia and the breaststroke.”
Story won three of the five races — the 50-yard butterfly, backstroke and freestyle — while Jacoby claimed the other two, the 100-yard IM and the 50 breaststroke. Story’s combined time of 2 minutes, 54.78 seconds, was just enough to edge Jacoby’s overall time of 2:54.92, a scant margin of victory of .14 seconds, essentially the blink of an eye.
In a demonstration of their superiority, the two swimmers finished almost a full 12 seconds ahead of third place, and both were within a second of the SoHi Pentathlon girls meet record of 2:53.97, set in 2005 by Seward’s Jackie VanDriessche.
Additionally, both swimmers eclipsed the single event record in the 50-yard breaststroke, previously held by VanDriessche at 31.90 seconds. Story touched the wall at 31.15 but Jacoby demolished the mark at 29.47 to slash nearly 2 1/2 seconds off her fellow Seahawk’s old time.
“I know Lydia destroyed me in the breaststroke,” Story said.
“I felt pretty good,” Jacoby added. “My finish wasn’t maybe as good as it could’ve been.”
The boys pentathlon title also featured a heavyweight bout between two contestants, and in the end, it was Soldotna sophomore Ethan Evans capturing the crown over Kenai Central senior Savaii Heaven. Evans and Heaven have been club teammates with the Peninsula Piranhas swim team for several years, and Evans said Heaven had been somewhat of a leader to him.
“He’s been like a mentor to me,” Evans said. “I’ve looked up to him for a while, and to finish ahead of him is great.”
Heaven’s performances almost helped the Kenai boys win the team race, but the Kardinals fell just short by a single point, taking second with 33 points to Kodiak’s 34.
The Palmer girls wrapped up the team title with 36 points, placing five swimmers in the top 16, led by Gretchen Snelders’ third-place result. Homer took second with 29 points and SoHi was third with 26.
The SoHi girls were led by senior Sydney Juliussen’s fifth-place finish. Juliussen finished with a total time of 3:08.97, and teammate Madelyn Barkman joined her in the top-10 in ninth.
Last year as a freshman, Story announced her arrival on the state swim scene with a third-place in the girls breaststroke at the state championships, while also placing in the IM.
This year, Story’s peninsula dominance has been challenged by her young rival and friend Jacoby.
The war in the water Friday afternoon between Story and Jacoby began with a 100-yard IM win by Jacoby, whose time of 1:01.04 to Story’s 1:01.91 immediately put the frosh up by .87 seconds over her older rival.
Story countered with a win in the 50 butterfly in 27.89 seconds, while Jacoby finished third in that race in 28.38, helping the Homer star to close the gap to .38 seconds.
Story took the pentathlon lead with a convincing victory in the 50 backstroke, swimming a 28.64 to Jacoby’s 29.45 to grab a slim .43-second lead as the day’s intermission concluded the first three events.
After the break, it was Jacoby’s turn to shine, as the Seward freshman phenom converted her best swim of the day into a dominant victory in the 50 breaststroke. Jacoby’s win not only gave her a 1.25-second lead to work with, but it also broke the SoHi Pentathlon breastroke record.
Seward head coach Meghan O’Leary said her young phenom’s time in the breaststroke made for an exciting final swim.
“Her fly and back are really improved,” O’Leary said. “But it wasn’t quite enough.”
In the deciding race of the day, Story won in 25.19 seconds, beating Palmer swimmer Snelders by .63 seconds, and Jacoby touched the wall fourth, just .14 seconds shy of the title.
“It’s been fun to watch her and Lydia go at it, and now they’re both in high school,” said Homer head coach Thad Gunther.
Gunther said the final race was about guts.
“She just had to put her head down and control her breathing,” Gunther said. “I was a little nervous about it. I’m happy she swam her best and didn’t hold back.”
On the boys side, Evans won just one race, the 100 IM, while Heaven won three in the the butterfly, backstroke and the freestyle, but Evans was more consistent with finishes of third, second, second and fifth. Heaven’s downfall came in the breaststroke with a ninth-place result. Wasilla’s Camren Hancock was the only other race winner in the breaststroke.
“I’m happy to keep it close,” Heaven said. “It definitely was fun rooting for him.
“If not me, then I was hoping he’d win.”
Kenai head coach Winter Heaven, Savaii’s older brother, said he knew his younger sibling would need a big day in the breaststroke in order to have a chance, but it ultimately wasn’t enough.
“I’m happy with it,” Heaven said. “We knew that’d be his problem swim, but now we can really focus on his strengths for state.
“Ethan’s a stud sprinter, and he’s very well-rounded.”
Evans said his strategy involved staying as close to Heaven prior to the backstroke before making his move in the breaststroke race.
His plan worked nicely, as Evans sat just a fraction of a second — 0.16 seconds to be exact — after three events, and a second-place finish in the breaststroke in 29.09 helped push Evans to the lead, while Heaven struggled to a ninth-place finish in 31.87 seconds, losing 2.78 seconds to his SoHi competitor.
“I just had to keep close to him before the breaststroke,” Evans said. “I wanted to make my move in the breaststroke, it’s one of my strongest strokes.”
Heading into the final race, the 50 free, Evans just had to protect his 2.62-second lead over Heaven to secure his first pentathlon title, and did so with a fine fifth-place result in 23.25 seconds, while Heaven won in 22.63 seconds.
Team scores — 1. Palmer, 36 points; 2. Homer, 29; 3. Soldotna, 26; 4. Kodiak, 24; 5. Colony, 22; 6. Seward, 17.
Individual results (scoring finishers) — 1. Madison Story, Hom, 2:54.78; 2. Lydia Jacoby, Sew, 2:54.92; 3. Gretchen Snelders, Pal, 3:06.30; 4. Alexis Mattson, 3:07.83; 5. Sydney Juliussen, Sol, 3:08.97; 6. Devon Cummiskey, Kod, 3:10.23; 7. Ashtyn Petersen, Pal, 3:10.60; 8. Leslie Spear, Kod, 3:10.65; 9. Madelyn Barkman, Sol, 3:12.14; 10. Taylor Nelson, Col, 3:12.22; 11. Ellyse Russell, Pal, 3:14.74; 12. Alia Bales, Hom, 3:15.45; 13. Adeline Berry, Hom, 3:17.20; 14. Madison Snyder, Sol, 3:17.62; 15. Lindsay Musgrave, Pal, 3:17.75; 16. Maria Beck, Pal, 3:17.87.
Team scores — 1. Kodiak, 34; 2. Kenai, 33; 3. Homer, 28; 4. Soldotna, 20; 5. Unalaska, 15; 6. Colony, 14; 7. Seward, 11.
Individual results (scoring finishers) — 1. Ethan Evans, Sol, 2:40.30; 2. Savaii Heaven, Ken, 2:42.30; 3. Clayton Arndt, Hom, 2:45.36; 4. Adam Nguyen, Una, 2:46.51; 5. Konnor Kolberg, Col, 2:47.59; 6. Ian Rocheleau, Kod, 2:48.33; 7. Nathan James, Kod, 2:50.25; 8. Connor Spanos, Sew, 2:50.73; 9. Anders Hocum, Kod, 2:51.38; 10. Koda Poulin, Ken, 2:53.03; 11. Teddy Handley, Hom, 2:53.66; 12. Owen Rolph, Ken, 2:55.57; 13. Theo Castellani, Hom, 2:57.43; 14. Trevor Bagley, Ken, 2:57.66; 15. Skyler Rodriguez, Hom, 2:58.87; 16. Peter Anderson, Ken, 3:00.99.