by Grace Sall
Amidst freezing rain and snow, the Marian swim and dive team braved the treacherous weather for their final battle at the state championship on Feb. 22-24. After completing an undefeated season, the state meet was electric with excitement from the girls, coaches and parents ready to see how the Crusaders would step up at the Bob Devaney Center in Lincoln.
Two of the Marian divers competed on Thursday morning, with freshman Megan Carter earning the state title and seventh in Nebraska dive history with a score of 466.55 points. Sophomore Claire Hartley placed seventh with 346.15 points. Some of the swimmers cheered on the divers before their preliminaries on Friday morning.
Though the weather was precarious that weekend, Marian’s competitive attitude was evident before the meet on Friday morning, with the iconic “When We Tell A Story” chant ringing through the large arena before the first event began. Their white caps were easily spotted on the starting blocks, with teammates standing not far behind, ready to cheer each other on at every event. The Crusaders accomplished exactly what they cheered for: they told their story.
“I think state brings the whole season together and all the seniors and captains showed great leadership in and out of the pool,” senior Olivia Tate said.
With seven seniors leading the team this year, the girls made a point to leave it all in the pool. Freshman Rylee Trojan earned her personal record time of 5:15.00 in the 500 free. The idea of leaving it all in the pool with nothing left to wonder about translated well to the underclasswomen as well. Eight freshmen, three sophomores, three juniors and six seniors earned spots to compete in prelims, and 13 made it back for finals on Saturday.
Sophomore Bella Pantano was not only the state champion in the 100 backstroke, but also broke the school record in the 100 butterfly with a time of 56.92, almost half a second faster than the previous record set by Savannah Nichols in 2016 with a time of 57.42. “Honestly, I am super proud of myself because I worked so hard this season, and seeing these results is extremely fulfilling,” Pantano said.
The team ended their undefeated 2018 season as runner-ups, finishing closely behind their green rivals of Lincoln Southwest (LSW). The girls earned 332 points after finals, 85.5 points behind LSW.
The girls overcame many obstacles to get to the state finals. From biased journalists, to dangerous winter weather, to twice-daily practices, they remained diligent in the pursuit of each of their individual and team goals. “State is always very nerve-wracking and the girls came out for state. We had a lot of life-time best times. The competition at state is getting greater, and we just have to keep raising our levels in order to challenge the team,” head coach BJ Christensen said. The girls swam faster on Saturday than Friday, and that was the goal.
The season was long and arduous, but every girl emphasized that the hard work paid off after seeing how close they had become as teammates. “In club season, it was just constant swimming year round and you don’t really have a passion or a goal for something. In high school season, I really felt that desire to get better not only for myself, but for my teammates, and do all that I can so that we could reach our end goal,” freshman Amanda Allbery said.
“Even though we didn’t win state, like we had dreamed about since the first meeting we had, we all performed so well. We had so many lifetime best times, and every single person on that team was swimming for Marian, not themselves. Our team grew into something bigger than just some fast swimmers. We all worked so hard the past four months and I couldn’t be prouder of the family we have become,” Pantano said.
The coaches expressed their utmost pride in the girls, from the regular season undefeated status to battling hard in the state finals. “I am the most proud of how the girls were a family this season. Through the ups and downs they stuck together and accomplished so many great things. Seeing the impact the seniors had on the freshman was amazing,” assistant coach Kristy Kunkel said. Kunkel graduated from Marian in 2011 and said the years swimming for the Marian team were some of the best years of her life.
The team made their coaches, parents and school proud. In the coming years, the swim and dive team will continue to be a force to be reckoned with, and may have schools on their toes for the state title next year.