Makayla Cazier has come on strong as of late — and her timing couldn’t be any better.
All of the sudden, the Maple Mountain freshman swimmer began turning heads, landing herself in the middle lane just in time for the 4A state swim meet, which is one of four taking place this weekend at BYU.
“She went from the middle of the pack to No. 1 in both the 200 individual medley and 100 backstroke,” said Joe Pereira, the president of the Utah Swimming Coaches Association. “She just came out of nowhere. She was not a standout, and now she is.”
In the 200 IM, Cazier will line up her qualifying time of 2:11.32 next to Highland junior Zoe Phillips’ 2:13.37 and Olympus sophomore Bella White’s 2:16.18. Cazier will meet the Highland junior again in the 100 back, testing her 58:43, the only sub-one-minute qualifier, against Phillips’ 4A state record swim of 56.91, which she set a year ago.
Alongside Phillips, her twin sister, Eva Gontrum, will represent Highland in the distance events with top qualifying times in the 200 freestyle (1:59.42) and the 500 freestyle (5:22.43).
“They just keep getting better and better,” Pereira said. “That is a sign of their club coach, Mark Gray. That is his signature — they just keep improving every year.”
There are a number of sister pairs competing at the top of their respective classes at the state meets this weekend. In addition to Gontrum and Phillips representing Highland in 4A, sisters Alandra and Blaire McDowell, a senior and a freshman, respectively, will represent Park City in 3A while juniors McKenna and Mariah Gassaway will represent Viewmont in 5A.
Alandra McDowell earned the top qualifying time in the 200 IM (2:14.65) and the 500 free (5:18.78). Meanwhile, her sister will be flanked by Park City teammates in the 100 breaststroke, where she has so far been fastest with a time of 1:07.39. The freshman will also compete in the third heat of the 50 free, where she has posted a time of 25.54.
Unlike the Highland and Park City sisters, the Gassaways at Viewmont will compete head-to-head for state titles. They have earned spots in the second (Mckenna) and sixth (Mariah) lanes in the third heat of the 50 free with times of 25.22 and 25.05, respectively, as well as the two fastest qualifying times in the 100 breast. Mariah will swim in lane No. 4 with a time of 1:04.28 and Mckenna will swim in lane No. 5 with a time of 1:04.77.
"The Gassaways are excellent, they are the 5A leaders," Pereira said. "To have cross-classification meets, with Highland, Viewmont, and Park City all in the same place with all the pairs of sisters swimming against each other, it has been fun. That is just a battle."
On the boys side of competition, Connor Anderson, the 2014 male swimmer of the year, has returned strong for Springville while junior Adam Shelton is sparking a talented and deep Skyline team with top qualifying times in the 50 free (21.53) and the 100 backstroke (53.20).
The Eagles are still the team to beat in 4A with Kearns and Murray turning in strong performances on the boys side.
In 5A, junior Brian O'Neal leads an always-talented Brighton boys team while junior Drew Bonner is sparking the Viewmont boys squad in a competition that could determine the 5A team champion.
Among the 3A ranks, Park City is once again an extremely deep team, looking to earn points throughout the standings in nearly every race — in both competitions.
"The Park City girls are extremely strong from seniors to freshmen; they have kids coming up everywhere," Pereira said. "And the Park City boys could easily be No. 1"
As for 2A, in just its second year of independent competition, Pereira said teams are still jockeying for position. While Rowland Hall may enter the meet with a little more experience and expectation, there are too many variables to pick a favorite.
"For 2A," Pereira said, "it is just who is swimming well on that day."
Sarah Thomas earned a degree in Mathematics from the University of Utah and is currently pursuing an MBA at Westminster College. She has been covering sports for the Deseret News since 2008.