FEDERAL WAy - Three years, three state appearances without a top-three finish.
Then came year four, and Clara Heffernan’s chance for redemption.
The Olympia senior came into the finals of the Class 4A state swimming and diving championships with the past on her mind, and she emerged from the water as the third-place finisher in the 500-yard freestyle Saturday at King County Aquatic Center.
“I’m so happy and excited,” she said shortly after receiving her medal. “I was disappointed the past three years because I always wanted to be in the top three.”
Heffernan, who completed the race in 5 minutes, 8.48 seconds, was lagging early and knew that she had to pick it up for the best time of her high-school career.
“I told myself that I have to finish, that I have to beat the girl next to me, so I let it all out in the last 50,” said Heffernan, who also placed fifth in the 200 freestyle (1:55.10, a season best).
Olympia coach Mel Smith said he wasn’t surprised by Heffernan’s comeback. She dropped nine seconds off her seed time in Friday’s preliminaries before knocking off another two in the finals.
“She had a fantastic race,” he said. “It was a great finish to a great high school career.”
In her first appearance in the 3A finals, Capital senior Amanda Clark also had a goal – to finish in the top half in the 500 freestyle.
She did just that, placing fourth in 5:09.67, and taking fifth in the 200 freestyle as well.
“She did everything she needed to,” Capital coach Burke Anderson said. “She was up, she swam hard, she was tough. It was a great race.”
Clark seemed a bit stunned as she climbed out of the pool.
“I feel pretty good,” she said. “I really wanted to beat the girl next to me, and she was starting to creep up that last 100.”
Skyline (4A) and Mercer Island (3A) repeated as team champions.
Olympia junior Miranda Early bested last year’s performance with a seventh-place tie in the 100 backstroke, then said she was pleased despite not getting a best time.
“I wasn’t last,” she said, punctuating the comment with a fist pump. “I’m hoping that next year I’m doing the same thing, but maybe not in lane eight. Maybe five or six.”
Olympia senior Kathryn Culhane’s time of 1:08.36 in the 100 breaststroke was good for 10th place and a personal best. Shelton senior Kathryn Myers took 10th in the 50 freestyle.
Shelton’s 200 freestyle relay placed 14th in 4A, and Capital’s 400 freestyle relay finished 13th on the 3A side.