Kelli Benjamin has played second fiddle for much of her high school career. Most of her former 5A Division I rivals have graduated, so she figured this was her year.
Except the AIA changed up the state swimming and diving championships, creating two divisions out of all Arizona schools that compete in the sport. That meant the Gilbert senior had to go against top swimmers from the other classifications, including top-qualifier Maggie McCord from Tucson Canyon del Oro.
But 2010 still turned out to be Benjamin’s year.
Benjamin earned all-America times in both sprints, winning both state championship events on her last day as a high school swimmer on Saturday at Mesa's Kino Aquatic Center.
“I’m so excited right now because I’ve always been behind someone I wanted to prove to myself that I can be first,” Benjamin said. “I’m just so happy that I actually did it.”
She swam her fastest 50 yards ever, clocking in 23.07 seconds, ahead of Red Mountain’s Samantha Guttmacher (23.21) and McCord (23.57).
Then, she set another pool record and got under the all-American time in the 100 free at 50.19. She was well ahead of Xavier’s Alisha Bender (51.41) and Kyra Zsiga (52.39).
The Xavier girls continued its dominance despite the change in classifications by winning the Division I girls meet for a12th consecutive year.
Xavier might have a new rival in Chaparral. The Gators earned 401 points while the Firebirds were second with 220. Mountain View (209.5) was third and Desert Vista (203) fourth.
The Lelli sisters legacy at Chaparral continues. Leticia Lelli won the 100 butterfly in an all-America time of 54.90, ahead of Xavier’s Talie Anchustegui (55.83). Lelli followed that with a victorious 100 backstroke, again beating Anchustegui, this time by just .08 of a second.
Lelli’s sister, Tamara, was a Firebird standout and is now swimming at the University of Pittsburgh.
“I was visualizing this race,” Lelli said after setting a personal best in the butterfly. “I’ve been working really hard on the little things. And it all worked out. It feels pretty good.”
Clara Jenck of Mountain Pointe was third.
Megan Cox of Chaparral also earned an automatic all-America time in the 200 individual medley, winning the race in 2:03.19, ahead of Desert Vista standout Katie Olsen (2:05.91).
“I just got in the water and felt pretty good,” said Cox, who also took second in the 500 later in the day. “It’s great to race against faster kids.”
Despite a cold, Olsen bounced back with a win in the 100 breaststroke, clocking an all-America time of 1:02.00, more than three seconds ahead of Xavier’s Elaine Casap. It was her second straight win in the event.
“Improvise, you have to swim when you have to swim,” Olsen said when asked how she competes while under the weather. “It was a good swim, under the circumstances, I’m happy with it.”
Kat Simonovic of Mountain View had a great day by winning the 200 free in an automatic all-American time of 1:48.09, ahead of Bender and Jenck. Then, she took the 500 free in an all-America time of 4:52.44, ahead of Cox and Desert Mountain’s Ally Loper.
Desert Vista’s 200 medley relay team of Mickey Melosi, Olsen, Lauren Torres and Mary Geavaras easily won their event, beating Mountain View by more than three seconds.
Corona del Sol’s Chloe Hacker won the diving competition with 363.3 points, ahead of Westwood’s Kyra Tatlow and Chloe Mennega of Mountain View.
Brophy won its 23rd straight state championship and 33rd overall. The Broncos didn’t make it dramatic, even with new rivals like Chaparral in the division. Brophy amassed 474.5 points to Red Mountain’s 203.5. Tucson Salpointe was third with 157 points and Mesquite fourth at 142.
Chandler’s Matthew Mozdzen was the surprise winner of the 100 butterfly, beating the top qualifier. Mozdzen finished in 50.41, .21 ahead of second.
John Dowd of Red Mountain won the 100 freestyle in 45.75 and was second in the 50 free.
“I was going for the automatic all-America time but I’m happy with my time,” said Dowd, who missed the mark by seven hundredths of a second.
Payton Sorenson of Mountain View won the 50 free in an automatic all-American time of 20.44, ahead of Dowd (20.93) and Dion Nielsen (20.94), both of Red Mountain. Sorenson finished third in the 100 backstroke, just behind Hunter Thompson of Phoenix Pinnacle and almost a half-second behind winner Matthew Berg of Tucson Ironwood Ridge.
“Well, I finally shaved (time) and I just couldn’t let everyone down,” Sorenson said. “I just needed to have the right mindset and go all out.”
Tanner Roe of Chaparral pulled off a surprise in the 200 individual medley, coming in with just the fourth-best qualifying time but winning the event in 1:52.65, .22 of a second ahead of Brophy’s Chris Webb. Roe later won the 500 free, but by just .04 of a second over Brian Stevens of Brophy. Stevens won the 200 free.
Michael Nelson of Brophy was a surprise winner in the 100 breaststroke, just ahead of teammate Shane Essert. Brophy won the 200 medley relay and the 400 freestyle relay, while Red Mountain took the 200 free relay.
Josh and Mike Bidak of Horizon finished first and second, respectively, in boys diving. Josh Bidak had 480.4 points to his brother’s 441.1.