INDIANAPOLIS – Devon Kitchel said she was nervous as she came to the blocks on Saturday afternoon prior to the 200-yard IM at the IHSAA State Finals.
But you certainly couldn’t tell it from the outside. The Eagle sophomore was bobbing along and singing to the walk out music, and looked like she was getting more ready for a practice rather than one of the biggest races of her high school career.
It was all part of a new, care-free attitude Kitchel has had all season, and it paid off in a big way. She went on to win the 200-yard IM in 1:59.47, then doubled it up with a win in the 100-yard butterfly about an hour later to be a two-event state champion.
“I have had to work on that a lot over the past few years,” Kitchel said. “Especially recently, I talked with (assistant coach) Eric (Meyer) and (head coach Scott) Kubly about staying loose, staying at my peak and not putting pressure on myself.”
Kitchel’s two titles were just the sixth and seventh all time in Zionsville girls swimming history.
It was also the first time a Lady Eagle had won two individual titles in the same season.
“I couldn’t have imagined this at the start of the year,” Kitchel said. “Last year, I didn’t even make the finals in either event. I knew this year I was going to be up there more, but I didn’t know it would play out like this.”
Kitchel was the first sophomore to win the IM state title since 2012, when Penn’s Bethany Galat won the first of her three-straight IM titles.
One thing that helped Kitchel out in the race was being in between two of her club teammates in Carmel’s Maggie Love and MacKenna Lieske.
“It helped with the nerves a lot,” Kitchel said. “Me and (Carmel’s) Madelyn Christman were talking about it before. We know each other so well that we would be happy for anyone who won. It took a lot of the nerves away, because it wasn’t so much about the result, it was more about racing your best friends.”
Kitchel came in as the top seed in the event and didn’t waste much time taking control of the race.
She was second after the butterfly leg, 0.22 behind the lead, but had the best backstroke split by more than a second and opened up a huge lead midway through the race.
“Going in I didn’t know what to expect time wise,” Kitchel said. “I was pleasantly surprised in prelims and I am happy I could back it up in finals.”
The butterfly was supposed to be closely contested throughout.
Kitchel was the No. 1 seed after Friday’s prelims, but was just .12 seconds ahead of the second-seed Elizabeth Broshears of Evansville Memorial.
But Kitchel got stronger as the race when on, and she pulled away from the field in the final 50.
“Last year, I was incredibly caught up in ‘what’s my seed time?,’ ‘what’s her seed time,’ and things like that,” Kitchel said. “This year I got to the point where I was just going to go out and do my personal best and we will see how it plays out.”
Kitchel was in second at the 50, trailing by .06 seconds. But her last two turns made the difference, as she beat the rest of the field by nearly seventh tenths of a second in the final 50 to win by more than a half second.
“For me personally, I know my underwaters and turns are really important,” Kitchel said. “I really wanted to make the most out of it that last race and see what I could do.”
Kitchel’s swims were the highlight of what was an excellent weekend for the Zionsville team as a whole.
The team swam phenomenal on Friday, and backed it up on Saturday, placing six swims in the top-6 and earning a seventh-place team finish.
“I can’t remember a Friday night prelim that went so well,” Zionsville head coach Scott Kubly said. “Everyone swam lights out. We have talked about how you have to set yourself up in prelims to do what you need to do on Saturday and they did. It was a great weekend and a great season for the girls.”
The medley relay team of Elyse Heiser, Kitchel, Carlin Barksdale and Peyton Skaff set the tone with a sixth-place finish in a time of 1:45.20.
Heiser then placed fifth in the 200-yard freestyle in a time of 1:48.93. Heiser later placed fourth in the backstroke in a time of 54.93.
“The look and excitement that these girls have had, it is going to springboard into the club season and into the fall,” Kubly said. “This was a great meet to end the year on.”
The 400-yard freestyle relay team of Kitchel, Heiser, Reagan Mattice and Barksdale closed the meet on a high note, moving up to third in a time of 3:27.80.
Mattice placed 13th in the 500-yard freestyle.
Of the eight Eagles that swam in the State Meet in either the finals or prelims, six are back next season.
They will provide a strong core to a group that moved up from 10th in the team standings a year ago to seventh this year.
Kitchel said this was a close-knit group.
“We really came behind each other and were really positive the entire season, not just this weekend,” Kitchel said. “That showed today.”