Nov. 6—WAUKEE — When senior Lillie Ray jumped into the pool during the 200- and 400-yard freestyle relays, she was either just even or slightly behind multiple swimmers.
And on both occasions, the Aquagirl veteran came through for her team.
Ray swam on all three relays for the Newton-Colfax-Mingo-Pella girls' swim team and will compete in the state meet for the third time in her career.
"I enjoy relays more because I get to swim with my best friends," Ray said. "That's what I love about it. These girls are my best friends. We all work so hard together and to be able to do this and be able to swim with them and swim well with them is an amazing feeling."
The Aquagirls will compete at the state meet in six events. NCMP was shut out of the win column at the regional meet on Saturday but clinched six at-large bids, including all three relays.
"All three of our relays, every single person had a leg that was spot on. I was really happy with that," NCMP head coach Sarah Patterson said.
Besides the three relays, Lillie Ray also qualified for state in the 50 freestyle, Peyton Ray will swim at state in the 100 freestyle and Harper Barton is an individual state qualifier in the 100 breaststroke.
Lillie Ray's rallies in the 200 and 400 freestyle relays helped No. 17 NCMP come from behind against No. 22 Southeast Polk. The Aquagirls finished third as a team with 307 points and the Rams scored 261 in fourth.
Second-ranked Waukee registered 10 wins on the day and won the regional championship with 556 points. Sixth-ranked West Des Moines Valley was second with 373 points.
The rest of the 10-team field included No. 35 Grinnell/BGM/Baxter (151), No. 32 Indianola (149), No. 38 Perry (139), No. 41 Council Bluffs Lincoln (102), No. 40 Des Moines East (75) and No. 44 Oskaloosa (65).
Valley took second over NCMP in part because the Tigers were 3-4-10 in diving. Grinnell/BGM/Baxter finished 1-2 in Thursday's regional diving meet.
"Getting third was our team goal. That was huge, especially since we don't have divers," Patterson said. "From top to bottom, even if they just missed a PR, it was so close. And it wasn't for a lack of effort. We came in here with a united front."
The preliminary round of the Iowa High School Girls State Swimming and Diving Championships will be at 11 a.m. on Friday at the Marshalltown YMCA in Marshalltown. The finals will start at noon on Saturday.
The Aquagirls registered many season- or personal-best times on Saturday.
The top finish came in the 200 freestyle relay. The foursome of Barton, Peyton Ray, Maylei Ruggles and Lillie Ray placed second in 1 minute, 42.11 seconds. It was a season-best time by nearly 2 seconds.
Lillie Ray also anchored the 400 freestyle relay. She led the troops to the runner-up finish in the 200 freestyle relay and rallied the squad to third in the 400 freestyle relay.
The team of Peyton Ray, Alex Riney, Addison Van Maanen and Lillie Ray finished third in the 400 freestyle relay in 3:45.89. NCMP swam a season-best time by nearly 5 seconds.
The Aquagirls also were third in the 200 medley relay. The team of Tori White, Barton, Lillie Ray and Paige Benson finished with a time of 1:53.89. That was a season-best time by more than 2 seconds.
Lillie Ray's motivation in the relays is simple.
"I don't want to let my team and my coaches down," Lillie Ray said. "Everyone is watching so that's way more motivation for me. I just want to do it for my teammates and my coaches."
Lillie Ray will compete in four events at her third state meet, while Peyton Ray and Barton will be in three.
"I feel like I put the work in. I try to do my best every time I swim," Barton said. "I swam my best (in the breaststroke) and that might get me in and it might not."
Ruggles is now a four-time state qualifier, while White, Benson, Van Maanen and Riney qualified for the first time.
The top six finishers in each event earned a medal and a spot on the podium. The regional champions clinched automatic state berths.
Lillie Ray's time in the 50 freestyle was clocked in a season-best 25.14 seconds. She was fifth overall. Ruggles finished ninth in the event with a career-best time of 25.86. It took a 25.57 to qualify for state.
Barton had one of the top individual finishes for NCMP. She was fourth in the 100 breaststroke with a career-best time of 1:08.95. Estella Allen also turned in a career-best time of 1:12.84 and finished ninth. The final state qualifying time in the event was 1:10.71.
"She's very competitive. She pushes herself and she came into the season in shape," Patterson said about Barton. "She ran all summer, is really into fitness and understands what it means to be an athlete. She trains really hard and pushes herself hard."
Peyton Ray qualified for the state meet in the 100 freestyle but did not earn a spot on the podium at regionals. She was seventh in the event, but her career-best time of 55.94 was good enough to advance. Barton's career-best 56.52 placed her ninth, but the final qualifying time was 56.05.
Three Aquagirls placed in the top eight in the 100 backstroke. Riney led the way in fourth with a career-best time of 1:04.05 and White was just behind her in fifth in a career-best 1:04.06. Van Maanen finished seventh in a career-best 1:05.67. A 1:03.13 was needed to advance to state.
Ruggles was a medalist in the 100 butterfly as she placed fifth in a season-best 1:03.25. Izzy Lane placed 10th in a career-best 1:06.23. The final qualifying time was 1:01.93.
The final podium finish came from Riney in the 200 individual medley. She was sixth in a career-best 2:21.27 and Van Maanen placed seventh in a career-best 2:23.76. A 2:18.89 was needed to qualify for state.
Anna DeVries set a season-best time by almost 18 seconds in the 500 freestyle. She was ninth with a career-best time of 5:51.46.
Peyton Ray placed 10th in the 200 freestyle with a career-best time of 2:03.06. She needed a 2:01.39 to clinch a state berth in the event.
Lillie Ray and Ruggles were the only two seniors on the regional roster.
"It still doesn't feel real at all. I keep thinking I have one more time to swim on the relays and then it's done," Lillie Ray said. "It feels really surreal. I don't think it will hit me until I graduate or until next season when Peyton is going to practices and I'm not."
Peyton Ray was one of eight sophomores on the regional roster. She gets one final state meet with her elder sister.
And no matter how things are going for Peyton during the season, she always trusts the process with her veteran coach.
"Coach Patterson has her little plan. She always knows how to make it work," Peyton Ray said. "Sometimes during the process, I think to myself, how am I going to be able to recover in time or if we are doing some easy stuff I wonder how it will make me go faster. There's a plan and I trust her."
Barton and White are two of the three freshmen who swam at regionals and both will be part of events at the state meet. Joining Peyton Ray as sophomore state qualifiers are Riney, Benson and Van Maanen.
"A lot of our freshmen and sophomores stepped up," Patterson said. "We only brought two seniors and two juniors to this meet. We are such a young team, which bodes well for the future."
Notes: There will be 32 entries in each event at the state meet. The 200 freestyle relay will be seeded 14th, while the 400 freestyle relay and 200 medley relay goes into the state meet seeded 15th and 19th, respectively. Lillie Ray's time in the 50 freestyle will be seeded 18th, Barton will be seeded 20th in the 100 breaststroke and Peyton Ray got one of the final qualifying spots in the 100 freestyle as she is seeded 30th. ... The two juniors on the regional roster were Allen and Brooke Linahon.