Competitors swim the 100-yard freestyle during a Sept. 9, 2021, meet between the Traverse City Tritons and Gaylord at Easling Pool in Traverse City.

TRAVERSE CITY — The state finals should be a bit more normal than last year for Avery Bills. Well, at least they will happen on time.

Bills, a Traverse City Central junior and star for the Traverse City Tritons swim team, earned a trip to state for the second straight year. Last year, however, Bills had to wait nearly two months between qualifying and competing because of COVID-19 restrictions.

Last year’s finals were actually held in the current calendar year, Jan. 15-16. The state finals this year are set to be held at their regularly scheduled time on Nov. 19-20.

Bills qualified in the 100-yard backstroke last season and finished 17th at state. This season, Bills will compete in the 200-yard individual medley after smashing the competition as well as her own personal best in the event at the Coastal Conference championship meet over the weekend.

Bills won the 200 IM by nearly 16 seconds at 2:10.39, which was also more than four seconds faster than her previous best. Triton freshman Kira Adams came in second at 2:25.98.

“It felt amazing,” Bills said, adding that she has never won a race by that wide of a margin before. “It was a really good experience.”

Tritons’ head coach Jason Moore said Bills put in a lot of extra work before and during the season. He said she was motivated to get back to state and swim faster. That training and extra work has paid dividends for the gifted swimmer.

“She has the self-motivation, that self-drive to get out there and keep going as fast as you can when no one’s around you,” Moore said. “When you have people next to you and racing you, it pushes you to go faster. She did it without that.”

Bills also won the 100M backstroke in dominating fashion by 9.5 seconds, finishing in 58.94 seconds. Bills said her junior campaign has been all about “trusting the process.”

“I’ve been told that my entire life, and it really came into effect this season,” she said.

The Tritons swam their way to a Coastal Conference championship, picking up 17 medals — nine gold, seven silver and one bronze — on their way to 569 points. Ludington was second with 497 points, Cadillac third with 308, Manistee fourth with 185 and Fremont fifth with 156.

The Tritons nabbed six of the top 10 individual performances. Bills led the way in first place with two golds and 40 points. Erin Hagerty (third), Camryn Crosby (fourth), Adams (fifth), Hannah Lantz (eighth) and Ella Provins (ninth) all earned at least one medal. Traverse City earned either gold or silver in every event.

“It was an all-around team performance where every swimmer dropped time from the day before and moved up spots to help gain points for the team,” Moore said. “It was a complete team win.”

The Tritons swept the relay races, winning the 200 medley with a time of 1:55.62, the 200 freestyle at 1:45.18, and the 400 freestyle at 3:55.8. The accomplishment was a first in program history.

Hagerty, Crosby and Lantz finished first, second and third in the 200 freestyle. Adams won gold in the 500 free with a time of 5:56.42. Lantz was second in the 500 at 5:58.39. Crosby took gold in the 100 fly at 1:03.03.

Hagerty took second in the 50 freestyle at 26.02 seconds. Provins just missed out on a bronze by .16 seconds, finishing at 26.88, but she took silver in the 100 freestyle at 57.92. Mally Ulatowski grabbed a silver in the 100 breaststroke with a time of 1:18.47.

Triton divers Charlise Carlson and Kate Barnum took the top two spots with 315.15 points and 292.55 points, respectively.

“We have a couple of really good swimmers, but we also have a lot of solid swimmers that help contribute,” Moore said. “Everyone just rose to the occasion. It was really fun to watch.”

The freshman Adams said the conference meet had a “really good atmosphere.”

“Everybody was cheering everybody else on,” Adams said. “It was just really fun. It’s been a really good season, and everyone’s been doing really well.”

The Division 1 state finals will take place at Holland Aquatic Center. Although Bills is the only Triton competing, she does not expect to be the only Triton in attendance.

“I’m so excited,” Bills said. “It’s going to be very different not having a teammate with me this year, but I’m pretty sure some of my teammates are going to come down and support me. It will be nice to have them by my side.”

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