After she touched first in her signature event, Kealakehe’s Cara Jernigan’s first glance was to the scoreboard to check out her time.
Her smile was golden, to be sure, but she wasn’t all that surprised — more relieved.
“I was just happy that I finally did it,” she said. “It was about time.”
Jernigan outdid herself again, twice, in fact, to capture double gold at the Hawaii High School Athletic Association swimming and diving championships at Kamehameha’s Naeole Pool.
Jernigan set a state championship record in the 100 breaststroke for the second consecutive day — this one in a personal best of 1 minute, 2.41 seconds to defend her title — after winning the 200 individual medley earlier.
It’s the third record Jernigan has set in the 100 breaststroke in the past two months. The other two came at the Hawaii age-group championships and at a Big Island Interscholastic Federation meet.
“That was my goal, to get below 1:03,” she said. “That is what I was shooting for.”
Jernigan entered as the top seed after Friday’s trials — held in the rain under overcast skies — and held off Punahou freshman Maddie Balish at the sun-drenched championships.
“I just knew I had to go fast to get the record and beat her,” Jernigan said.
The breaststroke was her better performance, but her biggest surprise came in the 200 IM, where she was also the top seed.
“That was way out of control,” Waveriders coach Steve Borowski said after Jernigan beat her previous best by almost three seconds (2:04.80). “I’m ecstatic.”
She called her butterfly leg a struggle, but she took the lead during the backstroke to put herself in the driver’s seat once it was time for the breaststroke.
“I knew I was in pretty good shape at that point,” she said. “I was just really surprised by the time.”
Jernigan is now a member of an exclusive club in Hawaii, and on Saturday she stood as the sole BIIF swimmer to reach the top of the podium.
Teammate Leahi Camacho won silver in the 500 freestyle for the second consecutive year as the Waveriders finished fourth in the team race. Jernigan, Camacho, Madeline Foo and Chenoa Jesser teamed to take second in the 200 IM relay. The other girls medalist from the Big Island was Kassie Kometani, who won bronze in the 50 free.
Hilo’s Ryan Bisel grabbed silver in the 200 IM and bronze in the 100 breaststroke, where Big Island swimmers finished Nos. 2-4. Waiakea’s Ren Kuwaye-Tamanaha won silver and the Vikings’ Jordan Kamimura was fourth. Hilo was the top boys finisher in fifth.
Punahou swept the team titles.
The most breathtaking performer on the day was the Buffanblu’s incomparable Jasmine Mau. The senior went out in style with four golds and five meet records, including wins in the 200 freestyle and 100 butterfly.
The other double gold winners were Kamehameha-Kapalama’s Ryan Stack (200 and 500 free), Baldwin’s Jonah Hu (200 IM, 100 breaststroke) and Iolani’s Aja Grande (50 and 100 free)
And, of course, Jernigan.
The only time she’s failed to break a breaststroke record recently was at BIIFs Feb. 1. But that’s likely only because she wasn’t tapering for the event like she did for the age-group finals and states.
“You drop yardage in practice but keep the same intensity in your training,” she said. “It makes you go faster and you have lots of energy.”
Jernigan has been working for years with Borowski, considered a specialist in the sweet science of tapering.
“But kids have to trust that you’re going to make those drops (in times) when we do taper,” he said.
Jernigan called Borowski a “second father.”
“Well, I practically live at Kona Community Aquatic Center,” she said.
After she set the age-group record in December, college offers started rushing in for Jernigan, including one from the Division I University of Idaho which she has enthusiastically accepted.
“I went on a visit and loved it there,” said Jernigan, who is set to sign in April.
Borowski said more college offers were sure to follow once coaches hear about her performance Saturday.
“Nope, I’m definitely going to Idaho,” she said.