MILAN − Hannah Smith swam in the 500-yard freestyle at last year's state finals.
But it is not an event she has raced often this season.
The Bedford senior was back in the water for the 500 on Saturday during the sixth annual Monroe County Girls Swimming and Diving Championship.
And she was struggling to get ahead.
"She's mostly focused on the 100 and 200 at this point," Bedford coach Holly Scheffer said. "This was only the second or third time she's swam (the 500) all year."
That made Smith's victory in the event all the more compelling. She trailed for eight of the 10 laps before pulling even on the ninth and then taking the lead in the final stretch.
Her final time of 5:29.47 was a season-best by nearly 15 seconds.
"After she swam, I said to the rest of the girls on the deck, 'Did you guys see that? That's what it looks like when you're coming from behind and you don't give up,'" Scheffer said. "It was a great race. She must've been feeling really good."
Smith felt great.
She was named the Athlete of the Meet after winning the 500 free and also taking first place and qualifying for state in the 200 free.
Milan won the team title for the second year in row with 676 points, Dundee was second with 595, Bedford third with 303, St. Mary Catholic Central fourth with 213, Erie Mason-Ida with 183, and Monroe with 129.
Smith was surprised to be honored as the Athlete of the Meet.
"I've seen other girls win it over the years, but I never really thought I'd be in the running," she said. "I showed what I could do. I competed, especially in the 500. I was behind, but the last 25 I came back and beat her."
Smith could see that she was trailing Milan's Phoebe Rhoney during the race. The two swam in lanes side-by-side during the event and Smith was able to gauge the short distance between the two during turns at the wall.
"Every time she flip turned, I could see her kick," Smith said. "I knew if I gave a little bit more, I could catch up to her. I lengthened my stroke and just kept kicking. I knew if I could reach her, I could get her.
"... I came in wanting to get a MISCA cut and maybe try to get a state, so it was great to have somebody next to me who could push me. She really did push me, so it was great having her there."
Rhoney finished second by 0.22 seconds (5:29.69).
Smith and Rhoney also were 1-2 in the 200 free. Smith won the race in 2:01.17, and Rhoney was runner-up in 2:03.88.
Milan junior Annabelle Williams also garnered votes for Athlete of the Meet. She finished first in the 50 free (:25.72) and 100 free (:56.16), and swam the anchor leg on two winning relays.
"Easily Annabelle could've been the swimmer of the meet," Milan coach Dan Heikka said. "The nice thing about Annabelle is, I promise you, she won't lose an ounce of sleep over it. It never even crossed her mind that she could win. She's the most unassuming person on our entire team and yet she's probably our best swimmer."
Other Milan winners were Kiera Luhrs in the butterfly (1:02.60), Mary-Katherine Wayne in the breaststroke (1:11.38), the 200 free relay of Luhrs, Elaina Malach, Rhoney and Williams (1:44.82), and the 400 free relay of Luhrs, Krista Cook, Rhoney and Williams (3:50.41). The Big Reds also finished 1-2 in diving with Nadia Smith (203.50) and Emily Huelke (194.30).
Rhoney (200 free), Kamryn Stripp (butterfly), Cook (backstroke), and Rylee Mitchell (breaststroke) made state qualifying cuts. Hannah Brady, Sara Mitchell, Megan McChesney, Sarah Monroe, Hallie Thornton, Brianna Pumfrey, Zariah Blackwood, Lila McKenna, Laila Nemeth, Shyann Simons, Peyton Bergstrom, and Ella Cummings also swam well for Milan.
The Big Reds won with their depth, Heikka said, and were able to score the maximum of four people in every event.
"Dundee is very solid, but we were pretty confident coming in that we were going to be able to win," Heikka said. "We made a goal at the beginning of the season to win every meet we swim in, so it was important to win this meet. And we knew Dundee was going to take it very serious, so we took it very serious."
Winners for Dundee were Sara Carter in the individual medley (2:22.39), Joslyn Ball in the backstroke (1:03.05), and the 200 medley relay of Ball, Kaylee Imo, Carter and Lia Parry (1:55.02). Audrey Bennett, Natalie Bron, Camdyn Clark, Kaylee Desbrough, Brook Hester, Emma O'Connell, Lillian Ratliff, and Elana Williams also medaled for the Vikings.
"We always love coming here and I think there's a nice, healthy rivalry between Dundee and Milan and we pull out the best in each other," Dundee coach Sarah Eubanks said. "We had a lot of swimmers who moved up in placing from their seeding, so that was nice."
Bedford also had strong swims and personal bests from Gracie Ahl, Gabby Dutridge, Lily Landolt, Mia Tennant, and Madison Walker.
"We're a small team, but we swam great and I was very happy with how the whole team did," Scheffer said. "I’mthoroughly enjoying this group of girls."
Maya Zaleski (4th, 100 free) and McKenzie Kidd (5th, breaststroke) led SMCC, and Kaylee Kamprath and Mary Claire Wright posted strong times and medaled in all of their events. Monika Burkardt, Joyce Dietrich, Sunny Duran, and Brigeta Yakoo all set personal bests.
Riley Jacobs took fourth in the breaststroke for Erie-Ida. Mia Balcerzak, Ellie Crawford, and Summer Smith also swam well for the Eagles.
Lauren Lahna, Nicole Rykse, Alice Hause, Abby Macleod, Delani Willey, and Katie Murphy had strong days and earned points for a shorthanded Monroe team.
"We have the smallest team by far," Monroe coach Erin Dowen said. "In fact, our 10 person team had four girls unable to attend the meet. We still posted 50 more points than our team did last season at this meet. That is a huge accomplishment for six young ladies."
This article originally appeared on The Monroe News: Milan swimmers confidently defend title at Monroe County Championship