FOUNTAIN • Years of nearly nonstop swimming had taken their toll on Meghan Harder. She questioned her desire to compete and her future in the sport, if there was one at all.
After giving her mind and body a yearlong break from competitive swimming, the St. Mary’s senior wondered if she’d still have that edge, one that helped her qualify for the 4A state meet in the 50-yard freestyle as a sophomore.
With her performance at Saturday’s Trojan Invitational at Fountain-Fort Carson, Harder realized how much she missed swimming. Rejuvenated, Harder not only won her signature event - the 50 free - but also claimed the title in the 100 free and swam a solid anchor leg to help her team rally to win the 400 free relay.
“I took time off from club and wanted to figure out what I wanted to do,” said Harder, who recently returned to swimming for the Colorado Torpedoes club team that is mentored by Manitou Springs coach Roy Chaney. “Taking the time off really helped. I realized I still loved swimming, and I did miss it.”
The two-day annual event originally attracted swimmers from eight schools ranging from the Pikes Peak region to Pueblo. Thanks to an untimely accident, another joined late and crashed the party.
La Junta, which won the team title with 287 points, found itself unable to travel north to the Hornet Invite on Jan. 11 in Pueblo. High winds that accompanied a cold front blew a semitruck onto its side, and the ensuing eight-car pileup closed a portion of Highway 50 west of Fowler for four hours. That prevented the team from reaching Pueblo in time for the preliminary rounds.
On Saturday, the Tigers won four individual events and two relays en route to the victory.
“We appreciated them letting us in at the last minute,” Tigers coach Marty Roberson said. “This was a good meet for us, and it was good for them after looking forward so much to the Hornet. This group has been good at focusing this season.”
Fountain Valley senior Maia Presti, who finished third at the 4A state meet last year, defended her Trojan Invitational diving title with 382.3 points, the third-best mark in 4A this year. Mesa Ridge sophomore Carmen Mena also defended her crown in the 100 butterfly but was denied a second straight title in the 200 individual medley when La Junta senior Aricka Aldea caught her on the last lap.
Harder held off Fountain Valley’s Margot Twomey to win the 50 free, then caught her from behind on the final leg of the 400 relay in the day’s final event.
“As soon I saw her start (on the anchor leg), I knew she’d catch the Fountain Valley girl,” Pirates second-year coach Rebecca Keith said. “She came back with a whole new attitude this year, not only in the pool, but in offseason and in the weight room. She came back more focused and ready to swim.”
Now, Harder’s future in swimming extends well beyond the 4A state meet, Feb. 8-9 in Thornton. She’s considering attending College of Saint Benedict or St. Olaf College, both in Minnesota, where she can continue to compete.