Laura Nichols ended Irmo’s eight-year state swimming gold medal drought Saturday in Rock Hill by winning the Class 4A breaststroke championship.
It was the first state triumph for a Yellow Jacket of any gender since a win by the girls free relay team in 2000. The last Irmo swimmer to earn an individual gold medal was Brenna Layton, who ruled the 200 free in 1999.
Nichols, the favorite after posting the top qualifying time, just missed setting a new state record in the event. She hit the wall in 1:06.86, just a bit off the 1:06.71 record time posted by Spring Valley’s Allie Voss last season. Nichols finished third last year behind Voss and Hannah Collins of North Augusta, who returned as the preseason favorite but had to settle for a silver medal again.
The Nichols gold medal run was the highlight of a good day in the pool for Irmo’s girls and boys teams. The girls finished eighth with 152 points, while the boys total of 113 points was good for 10th place. It was the second year in a row the Jackets girls were eighth, the boys 10th.
Nichols had a hand in four scoring events. In addition to winning the breaststroke, she was 14th in the 200 free, helped the medley relay team place seventh and the 400 free relay quartet pick up a few points with a 14th-place finish.
Heidi Nichols, Cassandra Staton and Brooke Elias all made significant contributions to the cause. Heidi Nichols had ninth-place finishes in the 200 individual medley and the breaststroke and worked on two scoring relay teams. Staton was 15th in the butterfly and Elias was 16th in the butterfly. Both had duty on two scoring relay teams.
Jeffery Auten and Alex Cram were the big guns on the boys side. Auten was fifth in the backstroke and ninth in the 200 IM. Cram was 12th in the 200 free and the 500 free, Auten and Cram were also part of the sixth-place medley relay team and the ninth-place 400 free relay quartet.