Kate Cooper could not have picked a better time to break her own school record in the 100-yard butterfly.
The State College senior hit the mark of 56.92 seconds at the District 6 Swimming and Diving Championships on March 4. It earned her a district title and a spot at the PIAA Championships, which begin Wednesday at Bucknell’s Kinney Natatorium.
“It showed that things were progressing right the way that we wanted to progress,” Little Lion coach Ryan Sprang said.
The 200 fly will be the only individual event for Cooper, heading to states for a fourth time. She will also race on the 200 medley team as well as leading off the 200 and 400 freestyle relays. For the senior, who has been swimming since she was seven, it’s the perfect sendoff.
“We decided to have her in three relays and one individual. It was the best schedule for Kate and allows us to be strong in all three relays, so we’re looking forward to making an impact in all three of those events,” Sprang said.
She is seeded 12th place in the event, the best seeding of her career at PIAAs. While she’s never stood on the podium as an individual, her fondest swimming memory is a sixth-place finish at states two years ago with the 200 medley team.
Even with the high individual seed, the year-round swimmer isn’t individually motivated, and while a medal would be nice, her goal for states is different.
“I’m just hoping we (make the finals) and score a lot of points as a team,” she said.
That mentality doesn’t surprise Sprang, who notes that the senior has taken on a larger leadership role.
“Kate really stepped it up this year,” he said. “She’s really led by example. She wanted to be that go-to swimmer in some of our dual meets. In fact, when we swam against a couple of teams she asked to be matched up against the other team’s top swimmer so I think that says a lot about her character and her willingness to help the team.”
She also hopes her work ethic will be remembered by her teammates after she graduates.
“I hope that they see how much work I’m putting in and decide for themselves that they want to do the same,” she said.
Still, she is confident after her record-breaking weekend at districts.
“I think the fact that I didn’t taper at districts is important and I’ll be fresh and other girls in the state had to taper for districts so they may not be as ready for states as I am,” she said, before adding, “I’ve had a lot of good times at Bucknell.”
As a veteran PIAA swimmer, she also offers advice to newcomers.
“Don’t be intimidated by the atmosphere and by the fact that you’re at states,” she said. “Don’t be intimidated by athletes from other teams, you’re just as fast, earned a spot at states, and can do just as well.”
She plans on swimming in college, but hasn’t quite decided where yet.
However, while she’s still a high school swimmer, she will do her best for the team, just like she always has.
“From day one, she came in for us she’s been asked to fill a significant role and she’s delivered on so many occasions,” Sprang said. “We’re going to miss her when she’s gone, definitely.”