EVANSTON – Mary Kate Gannon took an improbable route to becoming a state swimming medalist.
The Lyons Township sophomore began her high school career as a freestyle sprinter and missed most of the offseason after hip surgery to repair a torn labrum.
So what did Gannon do this season?
She finished fifth in the 100-yard butterfly with a time of 56.29 seconds at the state meet at Evanston High School on Nov. 19.
“No, I didn’t expect that, especially since I started out the year as a freestyler and I swam freshman year as a freestyler,” Gannon said. “I always swam fly and I wasn’t, like, bad at it, but I wasn’t great. One of the meets I got thrown into the 100 fly and I ended up doing extremely well.”
Lyons coach Kurt Johns was merely experimenting with his lineup when he had Gannon swim the fly during a regular-season dual meet.
“It’s kind of funny how it worked,” Johns said. “I knew that she could swim a good fly leg.
“We gave her a chance to swim it just to see what she could go. I think she went a 59.1 and was immediately our No. 1 flyer at that point in the season, so we were like, ‘You should swim this more.’”
Gannon won the sectional title in the fly with a 56.88, which was the 14th-best sectional time in the state. Only the top-12 times at state earn medals, so when Gannon finished sixth in the prelims Nov. 18 to qualify for the championship heat, Johns was shocked.
“The fact that she finished fifth, I never would have thought that at the beginning of the season,” Johns said. “She was a girl that as a freshman had a really tough sectional meet.
“She just missed the 50 freestyle qualifying time. She flinched on the block of our 200 free relay, which got disqualified, and then right after the season she found out she had a tear in her labrum. For her to come back and make state this year was nothing short of amazing. She had a great year.”
So, too, did the Lions, who scored 54 points to finish 10th in the team standings. It was LT’s highest finish since 2012.
“I’m so excited,” Gannon said. “It’s an amazing feeling knowing how much potential we have and to have done so well, compared to last year when we had one person coming back for finals. Coming back this year with three relays and two individuals is awesome.”
In addition to Gannon, who is the Lions’ first butterfly medalist since 2003, LT scored in all three relays plus the 200 individual medley, where freshman Callahan Dunn took ninth in 2:04.57.
The 200 medley team of Dunn, sophomore Julia Kral, Gannon and senior Paige Mitchell finished fifth in 1:44.85. The 200 freestyle relay squad of junior Madison Wanless, Mitchell, Gannon and Dunn and the 400 freestyle quartet of junior Maeve Swinehart, Mitchell, freshman Eleanor Tuerk and Dunn both took eighth.
“It was obviously a good year,” Johns said. “We had a lot of depth.
“The girls were kind of challenged throughout the year because of our depth. They knew that if they didn’t step up to work at every practice somebody was right behind them that could easily slip into their place.”