TOPEKA — Will Powers wasn’t quite speechless.


But the McPherson senior was pretty close to being at a loss for words as he took in the atmosphere following the conclusion of Saturday’s Class 5-1A state swimming championships at Topeka’s Capitol Federal Natatorium.


Clutched in his hands were a trio of state gold medals, earned with his sweep of the titles in the 100-yard freestyle and 100-yard backstroke as well as the 200-yard freestyle relay. Off in the distance, Bullpup coach Matt Cotton had a firm hold on the state runner-up trophy his team had earned, finishing second to Wichita Independent.


It was too much to believe.


"It’s crazy," Powers said. "My freshman year we were something like 18th the year before and now we’re second. It’s unbelievable how far we’ve come so quickly.


"I’ve just put my head down and worked. I didn’t really notice until this year that, ‘Wow! We’re going to possibly be top two, top three.’ Not in a million years could I have imagined this."


Behind the efforts of Powers, fellow senior Justus Hampton and a strong supporting cast, McPherson enjoyed its best state meet in program history. The Bullpups won three events overall, posted three other runner-up finishes and scored 182 points, edging Kapaun (180) and Andover Central (177) in a tight battle for second place.


McPherson had taken fifth the past two years and, to be honest, the Bullpups wondered if that was about the limit for the team. The program didn’t boast huge numbers like many of the metropolitan teams that they were challenging for a state trophy with only 10 guys on the team.


But what McPherson lacked in quantity it made up for in quality. The Bullpups got a taste of things a year ago when the 200 freestyle relay brought home the program’s first state gold medal, and going back to Topeka this year, they wanted more.


"That pretty much showed us what was possible," Powers said. "This year, we knew we could win some events and it was ours to take."


McPherson was in fourth place going into the final event of the day, the 400 freestyle relay. But the Bullpups were just three points behind Andover Central and two behind Kapaun in a tight race behind Independent.


Seeded second behind Independent in the race, the Bullpups needed to not only maintain that position but not have Kapuan or Andover Central, seeded fourth and eighth, respectively, finish third.


McPherson did its job with the team of Powers, Hampton, Matthew Powers and Vanderhoof posted a time of 3 minutes, 14.62 seconds to break their school record and take second to Independent (3:12.05). Kapaun took fourth and Andover Central took sixth, allowing the Bullpups to leapfrog both for the runner-up finish.


"It was amazing," Hampton said. "The relay just gives you something extra to push it because everyone’s relying on you."


The event capped a banner day that saw Powers become the program’s first individual state swimming champion with his title sweep. He won both in dominating fashion.


Powers won the 100 freestyle in 46.60 seconds, 1.27 seconds faster than runner-up Greyson Walker of Lansing. The backstroke title was a little closer with Powers getting a challenge at the 50 mark from Kapaun’s Jackson Burrus.


But he pulled away over the last 50 to win by more than a second and a half in 53.35 seconds. Both times broke his old school records and the performance earned him Athlete of the Meet honors.


"It’s something I’ve been dreaming of since my freshman year," Powers said. "I turned my head off and just did what I’ve done in the past. I know how to swim a 100 free. I know how to swim a 100 back. I just needed to get it done."


Hampton had hoped to join Powers as an individual state champion, but fell just short in his pursuit, taking second in the 200 freestyle and 500 freestyle. In both, he was right there until the end, losing by .57 seconds in the 200 free in 1:43.76 and by .20 seconds in the 500 free in 4:48.26.


Even though both were school records, Hampton’s face showed his disappointment in the near-misses, particularly after the 500 where he dropped more than three seconds.


"I was disappointed to be so close and it was my last chance to get first being a senior," Hampton said. "All my coaches were proud, my teammates were supportive, my mom and dad helped me get my head back up."


Having the 200 freestyle relay immediately following his 500 free helped. WIth no time to dwell, Hampton anchored the relay to a title defense, teaming with both Powers and Vanderhoof for the win in 1:28.22, another school record.


"(Assistant coach) Matt Morrow came up to me and told me to keep my chin up high," Hampton said. "He said, ‘You gave it all you had and now your team is relying on you to bring it home.’ That was big motivation and I got out there and held nothing back."


McPherson had depth as well. Matthew Powers and Cody Achilles finished 7-8 in the 200 freestyle. Powers also took 14th in the 100 butterfly, Achilles was 16th in the 500 freestyle and Vanderhoof was 12th in the 100 butterfly. The Bullpups also got a 16th from the 200 medley relay team of Achilles, Alex Houston, Riley Shelton and Wesley Wurm,


Morrow, the team’s former head coach before turning the program over to Cotton this year, said the groundwork was laid a few years back when McPherson finished runner-up at its league meet by a point to Maize South.


"The best thing that ever happened to us was that," Morrow said. "They began to realize how important each one of them is to the team. Every single point matters and we needed every single point today."


For Cotton’s part, he doled out all the credit to McPherson’s rise to Morrow.


"I have two words for why this program is where it is, and that’s ‘Matt Morrow.’" Cotton said. "He needs as much recognition as I can give him for the values he instilled this program with that have trickled down from upperclassmen to underclassmen. We all come in with the same shared mentality that these are your brothers and you swim for each other and if you do that, good things will happen.


"That’s what our program is based on and that’s our whole philosophy.