h/t Chase McFadden for the below article and results
Relay victories bookended Lander Valley High School’s 26th consecutive 3A Boys State Swimming and Diving championship.
One was captured by a pair of siblings with shared bloodlines. The other by a quartet of brothers bonded by chlorinated DNA, hard work and selflessness.
Lander lapped the field at the two-day culminating meet in Gillette, finishing 177 points ahead of the competition. The Tigers tallied 388 points to take the title. Buffalo finished second with 211, followed by third-place Worland with 112.
Seven LVHS athletes — seniors Brennen Blackburn, Jonny Kulow and Nolan McFadden; juniors Brayden Brown and Dylan Huelskamp; and sophomores Benny Kulow and Reed McFadden — took home All-State honors, finishing either first or second in an individual event or first as a member of a relay. Jonny Kulow was named 3A Athlete of the Meet and 3A Athlete of the Year.
The Kulows and McFaddens set the tone for Friday’s finals with a victory in the first event of the day, the 200 medley relay. Nolan backed the Tigers into a lead after the first 50, the margin increased by both his younger brother Reed in the breaststroke and Jonny in the butterfly, before his younger brother Benny brought it home with the freestyle.
The McKulow brothers’ All-America consideration time of 1:33.67 set a new pool record for the Campbell County Aquatic Center and was slightly faster than the foursome’s prelim time, which also qualified for All-America consideration.
Incredibly, it was the second time a Lander medley relay squad swam an All-America time during the 2021-2022 season.
“At our Bruce Gresly Memorial Invite in January, Nolan, Dylan, Brennen and Jonny broke the state record in the medley relay with an All-America time,” explains Shawna Morgan, who was named 3A Head Coach of the Year.
“Then we have a separate 200 medley combo — with two different kids — break the Gillette pool record, which was the state record before it was broken a month ago at the Bruce Gresly. And they did it in All-America consideration time. It’s crazy.”
Crazy, too, that it involved the two sets of biological bros.
“To be state champs, earn All-State and swim an all-American consideration time with him was awesome,” says Reed McFadden of the experience with older brother Nolan, “but the fact that it was his senior year made it even better.
“Getting the All-American time wasn’t something I had even thought about going into state, so the fact that it happened during my last swim with him was pretty special,” the sophomore adds. “And to be on that relay with Jonny and Benny as another pair of brothers was very cool.”
In addition to competing with younger brother Benny during his junior and senior seasons, as a freshman and sophomore Jonny teamed with his older brother, Nick. “Being able to swim with both of my brothers allowed me to become a better senior this year and a better teammate,” he says of the experience.
“Beginning under Nick, I had someone to show me the ropes, someone who I knew had my back and could teach me the little things,” shares Jonny. “It also taught me how to become a better leader this year. I remember those things I needed and wanted to know when I was a freshman, and I was able to do the same for Benny when he started.
“Swimming with them allowed me to see a part of my brothers that I don’t think I would have otherwise seen, and it’s strengthened our relationships outside of the pool.”
Following the brothers’ relay victory, Huelskamp won the 200 freestyle, his second-consecutive state title at the distance. Brown finished runner-up, picking up an All-State designation.
Fellow junior Justin Whelan placed second in the B final of the event, while senior Elijah Applegate grabbed fifth. In the prelims, senior Sonny Robinson dropped nearly nine seconds from his qualifying time. Freshman Shane Cunningham cut almost six seconds.
Next up, Lander’s sole sophs — Benny Kulow and Reed McFadden — finished 1-2 in the 200 individual medley to sweep All-State honors in the event.
“That was my favorite first-second finish,” Morgan says of the Tigers taking the top spots on the podium. “Benny and Reed are our only two sophomores, and they represented very well in their events.”
In the B final of the 200 IM, freshman Finn Richards finished first and senior Ross Anderson touched third. In Thursday’s prelims, Anderson slashed eight seconds from his entry time. Junior Caleb Else improved by four seconds during his prelim heat.
Following the individual medley was the “splash and dash,” swimming’s shortest, quickest event. Jonny Kulow — who swam the 50 meter freestyle at last summer’s U.S. Olympic Trials in Omaha, Neb. — won the 50 yard freestyle in Gillette with an automatic All-America time of 20.15, which also broke his own state record. Nolan McFadden finished second and Blackburn third.
“That first-second-third with those three seniors was really special,” shares Morgan. “All three of those guys could swim in college — they’re all really fast — and any team would be lucky to have them.”
After the sprint, swimmers got a chance to catch their breath while the divers took center stage. Junior Logan Wietzki led the way for Lander diving coach Shea Boyle’s contingent, finishing fourth overall. Fellow junior Noah Larson made the podium with his sixth-place finish.
Freshman Gage Hampton received marks high enough to earn a spot in the diving semifinals. He narrowly missed out on finals by five-hundredths of a point. Fellow frosh Dylan Blunck dove in the prelims, along with junior Joel Bever and senior Luke Morneau.
Once diving concluded, action returned to the six lanes of the pool for the 100 butterfly. Blackburn touched the wall first in the A final to earn the state championship. The senior — whose family relocated to Lander before his junior season — finished his two-year LVHS career as a three-time All-American with seven All-State awards, including an individual championship in the 100 free in 2021.
Huelskamp finished third in the fly A final. Else competed in the B final after an impressive effort in the prelims, and senior Ramsey Eckhardt and freshman Colby Blackburn — another Tiger brother, younger sibling of Brennen — each cut time during their prelim swims.
Once the butterflies had settled, Jonny Kulow was back on the blocks for the 100 freestyle final, and there was an electricity in the warm, muggy air as the crowd anticipated something spectacular.
Kulow delivered. The Arizona State University signee threw down another automatic All-America time — 44.15 — winning the event by over four seconds and once again breaking his own state record.
Individually or as a member of relays, Kulow holds 3A state records in eight of the eleven swimming events. Most of his times are overall state bests, topping the marks of 4A record holders.
“I can’t wait to see what he does at Arizona State,” Morgan says of Kulow, arguably the greatest club and high school swimmer to ever hang his cap in the Cowboy State.
Understandably, expectations for Kulow are high, but his high school coach keeps perspective, as well.
“I overheard someone near the podium comment to him, We’re going to be cheering for you in the Olympics someday, and that’d be really cool,” shares Morgan of Kulow’s potential to one day earn a spot on the U.S. national team, “but more than anything, I want Jonny to have the best college experience he can have. I want him to get the degree he desires. I want him to accomplish all of his goals as a person, not just a swimmer.”
Junior Scott Logan placed fifth in the 100 free A final, while junior Erick Harms touched third in the B final. Robinson and Cunningham both cut time in their prelim swims.
In the 500 freestyle, Brown powered his way to a third consecutive state championship in the event. “I never expected Brayden to be a second away from that state record in the 500 free,” explains Morgan of the junior’s prelim time of 4:48.59. Lander swimmer Eric Moxley set the 500 free record of 4:47.50 in 2001, making it one of the longest-standing marks in 3A. “Hopefully, next year Brayden can get it.”
Richards finished fourth in the championship final. Whelan took second in the B, while Applegate placed fifth. Junior Hezekiah Dolence finished 15th overall.
Steadily-improving freshman Sequeil Lozier finished just outside the top twelve in Thursday’s 500 prelims, lopping an incredible 17 seconds off his personal best. Entering his first high school season, goal-setting proved a challenge for Lozier. He took swim lessons as a child and participated in middle school swimming but has no experience as a club swimmer.
“I came in just hoping to qualify for state,” Lozier says of his freshman campaign, a goal he accomplished midway through the season. “Then I realized that I had to amend that goal to keep pushing myself to do well at state.”
Morgan was impressed with the performances from her class of 2025 athletes. “Our freshmen blew me away this year with what they accomplished. I can’t wait to see what they do next year.”
After the 500, the 200 freestyle relay team of Huelskamp, Benny Kulow, Richards (the frosh fresh off that fourth-place effort in the 500) and Blackburn finished seventh-hundredths of a second behind Buffalo to earn second place in that event.
Nolan McFadden defended his state title in the 100 backstroke, cruising to a three-second victory. Colby Blackburn crushed his prelim swim, earning a spot in the A final, where the freshman finished sixth.
The 100 back B final featured four Tigers. Scott Logan won it, followed by Dolence, Eckhardt and Larson. Lozier finished 14th in prelims.
The last individual event of the day was the 100 breaststroke. Benny Kulow placed third in the championship final, with Reed McFadden taking fourth. Logan won the B final, and Anderson touched third.
To close out the meet, seniors Blackburn, Kulow and McFadden teamed with Huelskamp for a historic victory in the 400 freestyle relay.
In Thursday’s prelims, the foursome swam an automatic All-America time of 3:05.88, which bested the overall state record of 3:07.39, set at the 2019 3A championship meet in Gillette by LVHS. That record was held by then-freshman Jonny Kulow; his older brother, Nick; Caleb Huelskamp, Dylan’s older brother; and Ryan Brinda.
“I didn’t think the 3:07 set in 2019 would ever get beaten, much less just three seasons later,” marvels Morgan. “Their time of 3:05 is five seconds faster than the 4A state record.”
Blackburn, Huelskamp, Kulow and McFadden now hold 3A and all-class state records for the 200 medley, 200 freestyle and 400 freestyle relays, swimming All-America times in each of the three events.
After it was announced that they were (once again) the Wyoming 3A state champions, the Tigers — 29 strong — packed the podium to accept the team trophy and pose for several hundred photos. Then it was back into the Campbell County Aquatic Center pool for one final swim: the traditional champions’ splash.
Coaches Morgan and Boyle led the charge with synchronized belly flops, followed by assistant coach Tim Hester’s more graceful entry. The entire team followed with cannonballs.
Good-natured dunking and general roughhousing ensued. There were smiles, there was laughter, there were some tears. The moment was emotional. Feelings of joy and relief, certainly, but it was bittersweet, as well.
Lander swimming rolls on year after year, but for the nine seniors on the 2022 championship team — Ross Anderson, Elijah Applegate, Brennen Blackburn, Ramsey Eckhardt, Jonny Kulow, Nolan McFadden, Luke Morneau, Sonny Robinson and Sam Rogers — the ride had come to an end.
“The first day, prelims, was just another swim-your-heart-out competition,” Anderson explains, “but as soon as the second day started, I realized that I wouldn’t be swimming again after this state meet. That was definitely a lot to take in.”
When asked to sum up his experience as a Lander swimmer, Anderson says, “The word I would use to describe my swimming career is amazing.
“I’ve met so many awesome people and feel like I’ve improved immensely from my childhood. It’s very cool to see growth in a sport, and when everyone involved in it is so supportive, it makes the experience amazing.”
Even within a program as esteemed and accomplished as Lander Valley High School’s, this senior class stands out.
“A team like this comes around once in a lifetime,” Morgan says, “and Tim and I were lucky to be a part of it for these four years.
“This senior crew. I don’t even know what to say about them. It’s a really special group. I can’t even think about them without crying,” shares Morgan, eyes welling. “They have been my favorite kids since they were in middle school. I’m going to miss them so much.
“I’m excited to see what amazing young men they become, and I can’t wait to see what they accomplish in their lives.”
Kulow experienced mixed emotions on the final day, as well. “It had kind of been hanging over my head all day that it was my last meet as a Tiger,” he says. “It usually feels like finals take forever because I’m so exhausted, but this year it seemed to fly. I wanted it to last forever.
“It really hit me when I finished the 100 free, my last individual event. My emotions just kept growing up until the 400 relay. When we were lined up for the walkout at finals, I was reminiscing with Dylan and Nolan about the past 10 years we’ve swam together. I was really overtaken with sadness and love.
“Love not only for the sport,” Kulow explains, “but also for the team and the community behind us. I’m thankful for the amazing opportunity to race under Tim and Shawna and wear the green cap.”
It’s an adage commonly used to explain the dynamic of successful teams, entities and institutions: “We’re a family.”
Hester, who has coached for 31 years, been present for and instrumental in each of the 26 consecutive titles, believes Lander’s success is about family, but not because of the warmth and fuzziness that word may connotate.
It’s more about the belief that family members are there for one another, regardless of the circumstance.
“They don’t have to be friends. Maybe they don’t even like each other, but they respect each other,” Hester explains of the young mens’ relationships with their teammates. “They respect how hard they’re working and they support one another, so then they work a little harder. That mutual respect builds strength.
“When you have individuals that aren’t part of the team, part of the group, you don’t have that strength. It’s why we do the team breakfasts, the team dinners. They sit down together, spend time together. But they don’t have to be friends.”
Lozier experienced this bond in his first year. “As a freshman, I didn’t know much about the team, but it soon became like a family to me,” he says. “I think that’s what’s most special about our team. How everybody is treated, and how everyone supports each other and helps and pushes each other to get better so we can keep on winning state championships.”
The green and white banners honoring each of those championships hang at the Bruce Gresly Aquatic Center. They remain after the swimmers and divers have moved on. But the legacy isn’t banners. It’s family.
“For me, that was the source of all the emotion after that 400 relay, the fact that I wasn’t going to be a part of the family any longer,” Kulow says of the experience of swimming for Lander.
“LVHS is so special because of the amount of love and comradery between the team and the coaches. We fight some and there are rocky sections, but at the end of the day, we’re a single unit and we stick together. We all work harder than we would otherwise be able to alone. We truly are a family.
“There isn’t a better word to describe it.”
Anderson believes he’ll remember his time as a Tiger with feelings of gratitude and pride. “In 20 years, I hope to look back on my experience on the team and remember everyone there who really worked hard to make that experience happen.
“I hope to remember all of my teammates, and if I see them somewhere, would like to talk to them about our time in high school,” says Anderson.
“I’ve made so many great memories on this team, and I hope to look back and think, That was me swimming on the state championship team, and I’m proud of it.”
3A Boys State Swimming and Diving Championship
Feb. 17-18, 2022 / Gillette, WY
TEAM SCORES: 1. Lander 388, 2. Buffalo 211, 3. Worland 112, 4. Green River 103, 5. Lyman 99, 6. Powell 91, 7. Riverton 88, 8. Kemmerer 81, 9. Rawlins 68, 10. Cody 63, 11. Sublette County 54, 12. Newcastle 18, 13. Douglas 16
200 YARD MEDLEY RELAY (A FINAL): 1. Lander [Nolan McFadden(SR), Reed McFadden(SO), Jonny Kulow (SR), Benny Kulow (SO)] 1:33.67 **ALL-AMERICAN CONSIDERATION TIME (PRELIMS): 1. Lander [Nolan McFadden(SR), Reed McFadden(SO), Jonny Kulow (SR), Benny Kulow (SO)] 1:34.36 **ALL-AMERICAN CONSIDERATION TIME
200 YARD FREESTYLE (A FINAL): 1. Dylan Huelskamp(JR) 1:44.91; 2. Brayden Brown (JR) 1:46.27 (B FINAL): 8. Justin Whelan(JR) 1:56.00; 11. Elijah Applegate (SR) 1:57.57 (PRELIMS): 1. Dylan Huelskamp(JR) 1:45.06; 2. Brayden Brown 1:46.04; 8. Justin Whelan 1:55.98; 11. Elijah Applegate 1:58.51; 17. Sonny Robinson 2:01.38; 19. Shane Cunningham 2:05.78
200 YARD IM (A FINAL): 1. Benny Kulow(SO) 1:56.31; 2. Reed McFadden(SO) 2:00.04 (B FINAL): 7. Finn Richards(FR) 2:05.20; 9. Ross Anderson(SR) 2:08.51 (PRELIMS): 1. Benny Kulow(SO) 1:56.31; 3. Reed McFadden(SO) 2:01.72; 7. Finn Richards(FR) 2:05.20; 9. Ross Anderson(SR) 2:06.47; 17. Caleb Else(JR) 2:22.23
50 YARD FREESTYLE (A FINAL): 1. Jonny Kulow(SR) 20.15 **ALL-AMERICAN TIME; 2. Nolan McFadden(SR) 21.56; 3. Brennen Blackburn 21.62(SR) (PRELIMS): 1. Jonny Kulow(SR) 20.07 **ALL-AMERICAN TIME/STATE RECORD; 2. Nolan McFadden(SR) 21.73; 3. Brennen Blackburn(SR) 21.74
1 METER DIVING (FINALS): 4. Logan Wietzki(JR) 342.65; 6. Noah Larson(JR) 320.80 (SEMIFINALS): 4. Logan Wietzki(JR) 243.35; 6. Noah Larson(JR) 235.25; 13. Gage Hampton(FR) 210.85 (PRELIMS): 4. Logan Wietzki(JR) 166.55; 9. Noah Larson(JR) 146.90; 15. Gage Hampton(FR) 131.35; 17. Dylan Blunck(FR) 129.70; 23. Joel Bever(JR) 111.60; 26. Luke Morneau(SR) 100.90
100 YARD BUTTERFLY (A FINAL): 1. Brennen Blackburn(SR) 51.81; 3. Dylan Huelskamp(JR) 52.27 (B FINAL): 12. Caleb Else(JR) 59.77 (PRELIMS): 1. Brennen Blackburn(SR) 51.54; 2. Dylan Huelskamp(JR) 52.06; 12. Caleb Else(JR) 58.97; 14. Ramsey Eckhardt(SR) 1:01.07; 16. Colby Blackburn(FR) 1:02.60
100 YARD FREE (A FINAL): 1. Jonny Kulow(SR) 44.15 **ALL-AMERICAN TIME/STATE RECORD; 5. Scott Logan(JR) 50.45 (B FINAL): 9. Erick Harms(JR) 52.31 (PRELIMS): 1. Jonny Kulow(SR) 44.54 **ALL-AMERICAN TIME/STATE RECORD; 5. Scott Logan(JR) 50.94; 7. Erick Harms(JR) 52.03; 14. Sonny Robinson(SR) 54.67; 24. Shane Cunningham(FR) 57.02
500 YARD FREE (A FINAL): 1. Brayden Brown(JR) 4:49.36; 4. Finn Richards(FR) 5:01.05; (B FINAL): 8. Justin Whelan(JR) 5:20.67; 12. Elijah Applegate 5:23.05 (PRELIMS): 1. Brayden Brown(JR) 4:48.59; 5. Finn Richards(FR) 5:05.80; 8. Justin Whelan(JR) 5:19.43; 11. Elijah Applegate(SR) 5:23.92; 13. Sequeil Lozier(FR) 5:26.30; 15. Hezekiah Dolence(JR) 5:35.22
200 YARD FREE RELAY (A FINAL): 2. Lander [Dylan Huelskamp(JR), Benny Kulow(SO), Finn Richards(FR), Brennen Blackburn(SR)] 1:28.86 (PRELIMS): 1. Lander [Dylan Huelskamp(JR), Benny Kulow(SO), Finn Richards(FR), Brennen Blackburn(SR)] 1:29.02
100 YARD BACKSTROKE (A FINAL): 1. Nolan McFadden(SR) 52.83; 6. Colby Blackburn(FR) 58.01 (B FINAL): 7. Erick Harms(JR) 58.28; 10. Hezekiah Dolence(JR) 1:01.85; 11. Ramsey Eckhardt(SR) 1:01.90; 12. Noah Larson(JR) 1:04.16 (PRELIMS): 1. Nolan McFadden(SR) 53.71; 6. Colby Blackburn(FR) 58.83; 8. Erick Harms(JR) 59.10; 10. Hezekiah Dolence(JR) 1:03.44; 11. Ramsey Eckhardt(SR) 1:04.34; 12. Noah Larson(JR) 1:04.93; 14. Sequeil Lozier(FR) 1:05.20
100 YARD BREAST (A FINAL): 3. Benny Kulow(SO) 58.23; 4. Reed McFadden(SO) 1:00.21 (B FINAL): 7. Scott Logan(JR) 1:01.91; 9. Ross Anderson(SR) 1:04.53 (PRELIMS): 3. Benny Kulow(SO) 59.15; 4. Reed McFadden(SO) 1:00.36; 7. Scott Logan(JR) 1:02.43; 8. Ross Anderson(SR) 1:03.56
400 YARD FREE RELAY (A FINAL): 1. Lander [Brennen Blackburn(SR), Dylan Huelskamp(JR), Nolan McFadden(SR), Jonny Kulow(SR)] 3:08.40 **ALL-AMERICAN CONSIDERATION TIME (PRELIMS): 1. Lander [Brennen Blackburn(SR), Dylan Huelskamp(JR), Nolan McFadden(SR), Jonny Kulow(SR)] 3:05.88 **ALL-AMERICAN TIME/STATE RECORD
3A ATHLETE OF THE YEAR: Jonny Kulow
3A ATHLETE OF THE MEET: Jonny Kulow
3A HEAD COACH OF THE YEAR: Shawna Morgan