By RICK PETERSON
Topeka High product Shara Stafford experienced incredible success at every level of an outstanding swimming career, earning the No. 1 spot on the TopSports.news Best of the Best Top 25 women's swimming list.
Stafford was a multi-event Class 6A champion and record-setter for Topeka High before claiming a national NCAA Division I championship in the 200-yard freestyle in 2010 while helping Florida claim a team championship.
A 13-time All-American for the Gators, Stafford went on to star at Missouri in her final season, earning Big 12 Newcomer of the Year honors while earning three more All-America honors and setting five school records for the Tigers.
Former Hayden star Shannon Suddarth earned the No. 2 spot on the Best of the Best list after winning four state titles for the Wildcats, becoming a nine-time All-American at Notre Dame and setting two Big East records that stood for 11 years, while Topeka West record-setter and Virginia All-American Emily Dicus and West star and NCAA Division II individual and team champion Kelli Dudley hold down the No. 3 and 4 positions in the Top 25.
Current Topeka West phenom Kadence Jeffries garnered the No. 5 position on the Best of the Best list on the strength of winning four Class 5A-1A individual state titles in as many attempts while still having a season of high school eligibility remaining.
Jeffries, who swept the 200 and 500 freestyle events as a freshman and junior, also earned the Readers Choice Award while another current prep swimmer, Seaman's Gabby Grace, and former Washburn Rural and Kansas standout Sammie Schurig finished second and third in reader votes.
Here's a look at the Top 25 and Readers Choice Awards:
TSN TOP 25 BEST OF THE BEST WOMEN'S SWIMMERS
1. Shara Stafford (Topeka High) -- Stafford was a three-time state champion (all classes) in 2005 and '06 before going on to help Florida capture an NCAA Division I team championship. Stafford transferred to Missouri where she finished off an outstanding college career.
2. Shannon Suddarth (Hayden) -- Suddarth won four state titles for Hayden in 1994 and '95 and was a nine-time All-American at Notre Dame, setting two Big East records that stood for 11 years.
3. Emily Dicus (Topeka West) -- Dicus was a double 5A-1A individual gold medalist in 2011 before going on to become an NCAA Division I All-American for Virginia.
4. Kelli Dudley (Topeka West) -- Dudley starred for Topeka West before earning multiple NCAA Division II individual titles at Truman State and helping her team sweep three straight national team championships.
5. Kadence Jeffries (Topeka West) -- Despite missing the 2020 season due to COVID-19, Jeffries has won four 5A-1A individual state championships, sweeping the 200-yard freestyle and the 500 free as a freshman and junior.
6. Haley Molden (Washburn Rural) -- Molden captured seven 6A titles in 2010 and '12, including four golds in '12 when Washburn Rural finished second as a team. Molden went on to swim for Kansas.
7. Sammie Schurig (Washburn Rural) -- Schurig won six 6A titles in 2010 and '13, claiming three golds both seasons, before going to swim collegiately at the Division I level for Kansas.
8. Kristen Carlson (Hayden) -- Carlson captured six gold medals for Hayden from 1989-'91, capturing at least one state title all four seasons of her high school career.
9. Katie Merriam (Hayden) -- Merriam won four state golf medals for the Wildcats in 1999 and '00, sweeping the 50-yard freestyle and 100 backstroke both seasons.
10. Kristin Strecker (Hayden) -- Strecker won three 5A-1A state titles in 2010 for Hayden before going to swim collegiately at the Division I level for Nebraska.
11. Sarah Arterburn (Topeka West) -- Arterburn was a double individual state champion for Topeka West in 1980, winning the 200 freestyle and 500 free.
12. Elena Almoguera (Topeka High) -- Almoguera won 6A state individual championships in both 2016 and '17, winning the 100 breaststroke both years for the Trojans.
13. Jennifer Hardesty (Topeka High) -- Hardesty was a state champion for the Trojans in 1981 and '82, winning the 50 freestyle titles (all classes) both years.
14. Lindsay Garver (Washburn Rural) -- Garver won a state individual championship for the Junior Blues in 1995, taking the win in the 100 backstroke.
15. Julie Meidinger (Topeka West) -- The former Charger standout won a state championship (all classes) in 1985, winning the 200 freestyle.
16. Hanna McGowen (Shawnee Heights) -- McGowen was a 5A-1A state champion for Shawnee Heights in 2014, taking the gold medal in the 100 breaststroke.
17. Maggie Metz (Seaman) -- Metz captured an individual 5A-1A state championship in 2011, winning the 100 butterfly.
18. Elise Valdez (Hayden) -- Valdez was an individual 5A-1A state champion for Hayden in 2011, winnint the 100 breaststroke.
19. McKynley Larson (Seaman) -- Larson posted four top-three individual finishes for the Vikings in 5A-1A in 2016 and '17, including a pair of runner-ups.
20. Avery Walz (Seaman) -- Walz turned in an outstanding freshman season in 2021, posting second and third-place finishes to help Seaman finish fifth in 5A-1A as a team.
21. Tauren Walz (Seaman) -- Walz and her twin sister, Avery, both burst on the state scene in 2021, with Tauren Walz posting third and fourth-place individual finishes for the fifth-place Vikings in the 5A-1A state meet.
22. Kavanagh Larson (Wshburn Rural) -- Larson earned four state 6A individual medals for Washburn Rural in 2018 and '19
23. Gabby Grace (Seaman) -- Grace has earned four 5A-1A state individual medals in her high school career, including a pair of medals this past season as Seaman finshed fifth as a team.
24. Kristen Wolf (Washburn Rural) -- Wolf earned six state medals in the 6A state meet from 2016-'19, earning state medals all four years.
25. Mara Bare (Washburn Rural) -- As a sophomore Bare posted a pair of top-five state finishes in the 2021 6A state meet..
READERS CHOICE AWARDS
1. Kadence Jeffries -- No. 5 in TSN Best of the Best Top 25 (see capsule above).
2. Gabby Grace -- No. 23 in Best of the Best Top 25 (see capsule above).
3. Sammie Schurig -- No. 7 in Best of the Best Top 25 (see capsule above).
4. Kristin Strecker -- No. 10 in Best of the Best Top 25 (see capsule above).
5. Emily Dicus -- No. 3 in Best of the Best Top 25 (see capsule above).
6. Kristen Carlson -- No. 8 in Best of the Best Top 25 (see capsule above).
7. Shara Stafford -- No. 1 in Best of the Best Top 25 (see capsule above).
8. Shannon Suddarth -- No. 2 in Best of the Best Top 25 (see capsule above).
9. Hanna McGowen -- No. 16 in Best of the Best Top 25 (see capsule above).
10. (tie) Haley Molden -- No. 6 in Best of the Best Top 25 (see capsule above).
10. (tie) Jennifer Hardesty -- No. 13 in Best of the Best Top 25 (see capsule above).
Next up: Men's swimming Top 25 Best of the Best and Readers Choice Awards.