An aura of Kentucky nostalgia mixed with the chlorine smog and the rivalry with Louisville at Lancaster Aquatic Center on Saturday.
Proud parents filled the stands to watch their senior swimmers don a blue and white swim cap for the last time at home. Some waved cardboard faces of their sons and daughters in encouragement and celebration.
Hanging on the pillars between the Wildcats’ benches were poster-board swim suits with seniors’ last names and a sign that said “ONE LAST TIME.”
“It’s kind of crazy,” senior Kyle Higgins said. “You never think it’s going to be you on Senior Day, just watching every class above you go and then when it’s finally your turn it kind of hits you. I didn’t think it would be emotional but it was.”
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Senior Day for the class of 2017 was marred by the Cardinals, who rank No. 7 on the men’s side and No. 10 for the women. Despite strong performances by many of the Wildcats, the men fell 176.5 to 123.5 and the women, who are ranked No. 18, lost 167 to 133.
“It’s always great to honor our seniors,” Coach Lars Jorgensen said. “It’s especially emotional when we have Louisville as well, our rival. I thought that we fought hard. The seniors swam well, (we) just came up a little bit short.”
Senior Becca Hamperian kick-started the meet with a first-place 3-meter dive. Sophomore Seb Masterson matched that on the men’s side in the 1-meter dive. Sophomore Kathryn Painter grabbed the Wildcats’ first swim win of the meet, taking the 1,000 freestyle event.
Freshman Asia Seidt, who is from Louisville, highlighted the day with three wins. Jorgensen called her performance “phenomenal.” He also complimented seniors Danielle Galyer and Higgins on their day in the pool.
The day was not perfect for the Wildcats’ star seniors. Drew Aviotti, who holds the Kentucky men’s record for the 1,000 freestyle and 1,650 freestyle, placed second, losing by 8 seconds to Louisville’s Marcelo Acosta. In the very next race, Galyer, who holds the program’s second- best time in the 200 freestyle, was defeated by Louisville’s Abbie Houck.
Galyer, whose banner hangs above the competition pool noting her as the only Kentucky swimming NCAA champion in program history, later took first in her signature 200 backstroke, a particularly strong event for the Kentucky women who have four swimmers ranking within the top 15 nationally.
The women kept to their strengths, sweeping 100 backstroke with Seidt finishing first, followed by Galyer in second and junior Bridgette Alexander in third.
Several swims later, the Wildcats erupted as the men swept the 200 butterfly, led by Higgins, who owns the school record in the event. Higgins’ victory continued his undefeated streak in the event in dual meets, a goal since the beginning of the season.
“Every senior I feel really stepped up, and it was our time to shine,” Higgins said.
While official judging took place in the form of points and times, unofficial judging from the bleachers was demonstrated with printed-out emojis — a cat with heart eyes or a snickering cat— by the fans in blue and white and rally towels for the fans in red and black.
Galyer said she couldn’t recall a crowd that big at a dual meet.
“We’ve got a lot of respect for Louisville,” Jorgensen said. “That’s the cool thing when they come out, the whole place is sold out and (they bring) a lot of energy. It’s a great college dual meet.”
The visiting Louisville crowd was treated to a sweep in the men’s 100 freestyle and women’s 50 freestyle. The men followed suit, placing the top three swimmers in the 50 freestyle, with UK’s Cobe Garcia tying for second. The Cardinals opened the meet with first-place finishes in both the men’s and women’s 200 medley relays.
On Friday, the Wildcats travel to Cincinnati for a dual meet with the Bearcats.
Kentucky: 5 p.m. Friday at Cincinnati
Louisville: 2 p.m. Friday at Indiana