11/28/2013 1:01:00 PM Lee misses state title by five one-hundredths of a second CL's defending state champion was narrowly out-paced by Mankato West's Nack
by JEFF NORTON
Five one-hundredths of a second. About one-fifth the time it takes the average human to blink an eye. Close to one-third the amount of time it takes a helicopter blade to spin. Five-one hundredths of a second is what stood between Chisago Lakes’ Thomi Lee and her second state title on Wednesday, November 20 at the University of Minnesota Aquatic Center.
Lee and Mankato West’s Chantal Nack were the heavy favorites in the 500 freestyle heading into the tournament. The pair finished one-two last year for the state title and there was no one left in the field who was close to them. They qualified one-two in for the state tournament finals this year, but each knew they had an extra gear to hit when the competition heated up in the finals. Nack beat Lee off the board, taking an early lead. But, around the eighth turn, Lee began to close in on Nack and briefly took a lead in the race. But, on the very next turn, Nack exploded off the wall and came up from under the water an arm’s length ahead of Lee. The back-and-forth continued for the rest of the race. So many times Lee pulled even or just barely ahead of Nack, only to have Nack retake the lead from her. It was a stark contrast to last year’s meet where Lee seized the early lead and kept Nack in her sightline all the way through the finish.
This year, going into the final turn, it was Nack who had held a lead for the majority of the race and it looked like she was going to pull away with the win, stretching her lead a bit going into the turn. However, Lee executed her wall turn perfectly coming into the last 25 yards and came up in a dead heat with Nack. The two furiously drove their arms into the water coming down the stretch, pushing their times farther down and their heart rates farther up. Immediately after the two touched the wall, both of their heads snapped back out of the water to look at the scoreboard, knowing it was too close to call. Unfortunately for Lee, the board read: 5 CHANTAL NACK - MANW - 4:56.48 - 1 and 4 THOMASIN LEE - CHIS - 4:56.48 - 2. Nack had out-touched the Chisago Lakes senior by five-one hundredths of a second in the 500 yard freestyle. After a quick handshake between the two, Nack raised her arm in victory to her cheering section while Lee cocked her head back in disbelief. But, there was a certain joy in the result for Lee. In the process of grinding out the thrilling swim with Nack, she broke the Chisago Lakes school record in the 500, no easy feat since her sister Brogan had set it at a sub-five minute mark two years ago. Lee had the 4:59.42 time in her sights since winning the title at last year’s state tournament. She never had to push to beat it in the regular season, sections, or even the state prelims, but with Nack next to her, the beast was unleashed, and she hit the mark that will stand at Chisago Lakes for a long time.
“I felt good in the pool,” Lee said after the duel. “I like swimming when I can race someone. When I have more of a challenge, it’s easier for me to go faster because I don’t want to lose.” Even though she did fall to Nack in this particular race, Lee was focused on the positives from the results, and was thrilled to get the record. “I wanted to get the school record. I wanted to get under five minutes,” she said. “If I could get the record, it was going to be awesome. I’m happy with that.” The swim closed off a record-setting career for Lee. She was the first Chisago Lakes swimmer to win a state title and she is the most decorated swimmer in program history with six medals, including three in the top two. She was also a model student and teammate during her six-year run at Chisago Lakes. And she knows it wouldn’t have been possible without her friends, family, coaches and teammates. “I’m just thankful for everything they have done for me,” Lee said. “I love them all and couldn’t imagine a better group of people to have this year and these last six years with.”
Although the more heart-stopping of the two, the 500 was actually Lee’s second race of the day, and her second runner-up finish to Nack. The two battled it out earlier in the day in the 200-yard freestyle. In that race, though, Lee’s battle was more with Elisa Burgstahler of Dassel Cokato than it was with Nack. Nack, who won the title in the 200 free last year, swam away from the competition early, finishing in 1:50.08 for All-American consideration. Lee, who was seeded second coming into state and third in the finals, was keeping pace with Burgstahler throughout the race. The junior from Dassel was actually the top seed coming into the finals, and she held a lead over Lee nearly the whole race. With about 10 yards left, Lee surged to catch up to Burgstahler and out-touched her by a smaller margin than what Nack had done to her in the 500. Lee finished second in 1:53.48, while Burgstahler came in third with a time of 1:53.50, leaving a two-one hundredths of a second gap in between the two. The time lowered Lee’s school record time in that event that she set at sections, leaving it as another record that likely won’t be broken in a long time at Chisago Lakes.
The previous day in prelims, Lee had competed in the 4x400 freestyle relay with teammates Danielle Smythe, Kalli Jo Olson and Dani Berg. The foursome didn’t qualify for the second day, but freshmen Smythe and Olson gained valuable experience and Berg got a taste of the state meet after missing out by just a few hundredths of a second in the 200 freestyle.