A team state championship title in 2015, another in 2016, and runner-up in 2017; that’s how dominating the girls’ swimming and diving team has been in the past three years. From Feb. 16-17, the Lady Bruins look to compete for yet another state title.
With the state meet taking place in the next few days, Head Coach Taylor Birsa said the team needs to have positive attitudes going into the meet. Additionally she said the team is ready to compete against a lot of great swimmers from around the state.
“The atmosphere is amazing,” Birsa said. “It’s loud and exciting. Everyone is cheering, and the stands are packed.”
The Missouri State High School Activities Association (MSHSAA) will hold the state meet at the St. Peters Rec-Plex where the Bruins will close out their season. Caroline Stevens is among the seniors who look to compete for the last time, and her goals are clear: to perform to the best of her abilities.
Similarly, Nicole Williams said being a senior doesn’t affect her mindset. She has had confidence in her abilities since she was a freshman and believes nothing has changed. She said gaining some fresh talent from the underclassmen has helped replace the seniors from last year. Like Williams, senior Ellie Zweifel feels that bringing home a win will depend on whether some of the freshman can step up to the plate and compete.
“It’s my last one so I really want to make it count. I think the older girls on the team are really going to go fast,” Zweifel said. “I’m just going to focus on having fun because I will never get to compete in another state championship.”
One of these underclassmen is freshman Olivia Henderson. While she is a new member to the team, she isn’t new to the sport. Henderson has been swimming for seven years and will be competing in the 100 freestyle and backstroke.
“I do feel a little pressure going into the meet, but I have known these girls for years now,” Henderson said. “I know that they’re going to make me feel little pressure and that they are going to make this meet so much fun.”
On the swimming side, the state meet is solely based on times. MSHSAA releases qualifying time standards for each event at the beginning of the season, and those times determine an individual’s chance at making the state team.
For diving, there are two ways to qualify. At a dive meet, where 11 dives are performed, an individual must score 385 points. In a six dive meet, a diver would need to score 240 points.
With more than 10 swimming events over the two day period, there’s certainly a lot of action in the water. Birsa, however, said the relays are probably her favorite events. Williams, who will be competing in the 200 medley relay and the 400 freestyle relay said it’s critical to be comfortable with a teammate’s finish.
“For relay exchanges, you want your feet to leave the block as they touch the wall. It’s hard to time because if you leave before your teammate actually touches the wall, it’s a false start,” Williams said. “Tracking your teammate and getting as much power off the block as possible is important. When you’re going fast, it’s kind of difficult because you don’t want to get your relay disqualified. Relays are double points. But with practice you learn your teammates stroke count and you get used to how they finish, so it’s easier.”
Despite all the technicalities of the event, Birsa believes the relay teams have some serious talent to bring to the competition. The difficulty of the handoff won’t hinder the Bruins and their competitive mindset for a high placing.
With such success in the past, it is clear the Bruins know how to win. But Williams believes the success the team has had in the past adds additional pressure to underclassmen. Williams said the upperclassman have already established themselves and have a good understanding of where the team will place, and how many points they can contribute to the team score.
“How you place at state can literally be determined by hundredths of a second, and we saw that last year when we lost by three points,” Williams said. “Everyone on the team knows they’ll have to do their part and swim fast on the relays if we want to win, and I think our freshmen and sophomores have been working really hard to help put us in a position to do that.”
The physical demands of the sport show that mental toughness can be just as important as physical ability. Earlier in the season, Stevens had hit the board with her hand. She said these setbacks just become another mental hurdle to get over. Even so, she has confidence in her teammates, who will hopefully leave the Rec. Plex feeling like champions.
“As a team, I think the swimmers have a good chance to place high on the podium,” Stevens said. “This year MSHSAA split swimming/diving into two classes, so I think that gives some of the girls the opportunity to place a little higher than last year. State is an awesome environment, and our swimmers always perform to the best of their ability.”
How do you think the swim and dive team has done this season? Tell us in the comments below.