by nathan oster
If the Wyoming High School Activities Association gave away rings for state titles, Connor Petty would have one for every finger.
The son of Jeff and Jean Petty of Shell, Connor added three more championships to his resume last week in Gillette, taking first in the Class 4A 100 butterfly, 100 backstroke and 200 freestyle relay as a member of the Laramie High School swim team.
That makes 10 in all — three this year in 4A to go along with the seven that he won in the 3A division while swimming with the Worland Warriors. Connor won the 100 freestyle, 200 freestyle relay and 400 freestyle relay as a freshman; the 100 butterfly and 200 individual medley as a sophomore; and the 100 freestyle and 200 individual medley as a junior.
Not bad for a small-town boy who got his start as a member of the Big Horn Basin Blue Dolphins — back in the days when Greybull had a pool.
“Kind of a funny story, but I didn’t even want to start swimming,” laughed Conner, when asked about how he got his start in the sport. “The only reason I did was because Colten Flitner and Joel Anderson begged me to go out when we were all in the first grade.
“I think they mainly wanted me to go out so we could hang out together and screw around, and they were a lot faster than me the first year or two. Then all of a sudden I got better, won state for the first time as a sixth grader and decided I’d better stick with it.”
Jeff Petty said he was struck early on by how natural Connor was in the pool.
“He always loved the water and swimming, just like his mother,” said Jeff. “I was surprised how good he was at it. I remember one time we were at a meet, his first or second one, and Timmy Anderson said, ‘Wow, he can really swim.’ He won his heat that day … and he just kept winning.”
Connor swam for the three years in Worland before making the decision to move to Laramie, where this year he has lived with his grandmother and where he has a lot of family. Connor’s mother, Jean, is also there, taking classes at the university. From Laramie, Connor is also able to work for his dad, who owns Shell Valley Consulting.
Connor said he also liked the idea of facing better competition, which as a member of the Laramie team, he most certainly did in 4A. While he won just about every race he entered as a 3A swimmer, Connor didn’t enjoy as much individual success this season. Often times, he’d come away from a meet with one win, rather than several.
Connor attributed that, at least in part, to Laramie’s “brutal” training schedule. “It was a lot more time more of the time this year and I didn’t really have the energy until I got rested up for state. That’s when I got really fast.” Laramie is known for its outstanding “tapers,” he said, adding it often shows up at the state meet.
In Connor’s case, it certainly did. He swam the best times of his career in the 100 butterfly (53.28 seconds) and the 100 backstroke (52.61), winning both. He also led off Laramie’s 200 freestyle relay, which took first in 1:30.04, and 400 freestyle relay team, which placed fourth in 3:19.53.
Connor specialized in the 50 and 100 freestyles for much of the season, but his coach chose to enter him in the fly and the back at the state meet, feeling that’s where he’d have the best chance to win. Connor still got to swim the 50 and 100 freestyles as a member of the two relays teams. In both, he swam personal bests.
“Connor really challenged himself this year,” said his dad, Jeff. “If he’d have stayed in 3A, he probably would have been guaranteed of winning swimmer of the year and two more individual championships. But he wanted to see how he’d do in 4A, and if he could compete at the same championship level. To be honest, I don’t know if I’d have wanted to do that, if I was in his position. I have a lot of respect for him.”
Jeff said his son has had to work for everything, noting he’s “in the pool several hours a day” swimming 6,000 to 8,000 yards a day.
Connor said he doesn’t know for certain where he’s going to attend college or if he’s going to swim. He would like to, though, and has been recruited heavily. Before that, he has more competitions on the horizon. This weekend it’s the winter state meet, followed down the road by the senior sectional in Washington.
He said he doesn’t think much about what he’s accomplished in high school, including the 10 titles.
“Hearing you say (10 state titles) does kind of give me goose bumps,” said Connor. “I just go out and swim, though. I don’t think about how many I’ve won. I just go out and do it and hope I touch the wall first.”
Connor reeled off a list of all the coaches who have influenced him along the way, a list that includes his first coach with the Blue Dolphins, Dale Nuttall, then Robin Nichols and finally Charlene Collingwood and Marva Rimer, as well as Worland coaches Guy Fulfer, Kevin Heyer and Mike Blissett and his current coach in Laramie, Tom Hudson.
“There are a million other names I could mention…there have been so many. They all helped me get to this point.