Shawnee senior Piper McNeil admits she gets more nervous competing at her school swim meets than big club meets.
“I definitely get more nervous, and I don’t really know why,” admitted McNeil. “I get quiet, and I keep to myself. I just try to stick to my routine. Once I dive in, all the nerves go away.”
McNeil handled the nerves like a pro last week, when she won four gold medals, set two records in her individual races, and led the Lady Wolves to their second straight 5A state championship.
“She just did awesome,” said Shawnee coach Valarie Colburn. “I always plan on her doing that and she always comes through. She’s a phenomenal athlete and I am very, very blessed to have her on my team.”
The Lady Wolves won the title going away, amassing 311 team points, nearly 100 more than runner-up Carl Albert.
“The girls had a lot of pressure on them because they had won the year before,” said Colburn. “You dream of winning back-to-back titles, but you also have to do the work. They came through. I’m very happy and excited for them.”
McNeil, who has committed to swim at Missouri next season, bettered her state record in the 100-yd backstroke by two-hundredths of a second, finishing in 55.39 seconds. She also set a 5A record in the 100-yd freestyle, finishing in 51.26 seconds.
She collected her third and fourth gold medals of the meet competing in relays. McNeil swam the first leg of the 200-yd medley relay and opened up a six-second lead on the competition. The Lady Wolves (McNeil, Natalie Selman, Gracyn Simpson, Ashley McDonald) finished in 1:53.83, winning by 13 seconds.
“In the medley relay, I always tell her to give us a good lead,” stated Colburn. “I know she’s going to, but I always tell her that. When she’s anchoring (400 free relay), she’s going to do what she has to do to help the team. That’s what Piper is all about. She is the most humble athlete that I know.”
“I love working with the girls,” said McNeil about competing in relays. “We work really well together. Last year, we only won one relay so this year we definitely set out to win both.”
As is customary when winning a state championship in swimming, the Shawnee coaches got thrown into the pool after collecting their trophy. Piper’s dad, Bob, is an assistant coach for the Lady Wolves and he and Colburn happily took part in the tradition.
“It’s so fun,” said McNeil. “Obviously winning is great too, but getting to push my dad in was pretty comical. After a couple of stressful days, it’s good to have fun.”
“Last year, I was not prepared at all when they pushed us in the pool, so thankfully my swimmers all had extra clothes to give me,” recalled Colburn. I am very superstitious, and I wore the same t-shirt that we won in last year.”
“I always forget how cold that water is,” Colburn added with a laugh. “That’s what makes them swim so fast.”
McNeil’s impressive performance capped off a brilliant high school career for the All-State athlete. Along with two team titles, she’s just the fourth swimmer in state history to claim eight individual titles.
According to McNeil, it was the perfect way to end her high school career.
“Honestly, I don’t think so,” remarked McNeil on if her final meet could have gone any better. “It went a lot better than I thought. I didn’t think I’d be able to re-break my backstroke record because last year I was so focused. I’m really happy with it. And winning back-to-back titles is super cool.”