All year people wondered, “What’s wrong with Sydney Willis?”
Her season was injury-free but nevertheless frustrating. It finally ended with her beaming atop the N.C. High School Athletic Association 1A/2A medal stand Thursday night at the Triangle Aquatic Center.
Willis won the 500-yard freestyle in a time of 4 minutes, 58.98 seconds. She dropped a stunning 25.20 seconds from her NCHSAA 1A/2A East Regional 5:24.18 that was a distant fifth.
“I don’t know what the difference was,” Willis said. “Maybe it was just the vibe of a big meet and the support of my teammates, coaches and friends. There was a lot of good energy here.”
The season-long mystery might have frustrated many athletes into quitting or at least regressing rather than improving at the right time.
“Everyone told me not to give up,” Willis said. “They kept saying, ‘It’ll get better.’”
They were probably encouraged by Willis’ history.
A year ago she dropped 12.24 seconds to win the state 500, but 2017 was sweeter.
“This was a rough year for me,” she said. “I’m so happy with my performance.”
Willis warmed up for her specialty with a second-place finish in the 200 free in 1:52.04. Later she also swam a leg on the 200 free relay team that took third place (1:42.42) with junior Emma Peck, freshman Hannalee Ellison and senior Marissa Deininger.
In the 200 medley relay, Raleigh Charter was third (1:52.11) behind the foursome of Peck, junior Sydney Parsons, junior Heidi Curtis and senior Lilly Whalen.
Parsons added a fourth in the 100 breaststroke (1:07.38).
Willis’ state title and Raleigh Charter’s depth helped The Phoenix to a runner-up team finish with 241.5 points. Pine Lake Prep of Mooresville won the team title with 332.