Being part of a team, athletic or otherwise, is one of the best opportunities that life offers. You learn so many lessons, like how to support someone in their best and worst times and push yourself to be your best to help the team achieve their end goal.
Your teammates become your best friends, right next to you in some of your hardest and most rewarding experiences. A team is an endless source of energy, and no school knows that better than Marian. The athletes have a tradition of excellence that follows them everywhere they go, at times even putting a target on their backs for other schools to reach to beat.
One of Marian’s most successful sports in recent years has been swimming and diving. As per their team website, “Marian has a rich history in Nebraska Swimming & Diving…[with] girls…[competing] at State Swimming & Diving Championships for 47 years.” Marian swimmers and divers boast a record of 14 State Championships, 10 State Runners-up, 22 Individual State Champions, 22 Relay State Champions and 51 NISCA All-American athletes. These statistics, while showing a winning tradition, don’t do much to explain how exactly the teams continue to excel year after year.
There is nothing more important to a team’s success than team culture. Some of the closest Marian teams have come out of the swimming and diving program. Assistant swimming coach Kristy Kunkel, who graduated from Marian in 2011 and swam at the state meet for four years, explained her best experiences around the sport as equally balanced between swimmer and coach. Some of her favorite memories of her athletic career were the lasting friendships with teammates and “being able to swim…with [her] sister Kelly (‘08) and then keeping the tradition alive of Marian winning the 200 Free 10 years in a row,” Kunkel said.
Today, she still finds her passion for swimming in passing along her knowledge to the next generation of record-breakers. “My favorite things [are] seeing the girls accomplish their goals and the fun that comes along with the process. Seeing girls put in all the hard work all season, and then at the end their faces when they go their goal times makes my heart so happy,” Kunkel said.
As for how the program has grown over the years, Kunkel has noticed a “more positive [team culture] regarding putting in the hard work in and out of the pool.” She notes that team members’ greater attention to decisions in and out of the pool has helped them to reach their full potential as athletes. Though the Marian swimming and diving program has not officially named captains for the past few years, Kunkel has seen more and more girls step up to lead their teammates and “hold each other accountable in order to have a successful year.”
It’s not just the coaches that see the wins pile up. The athletes have the most control of their performance at the end of the season, so it’s only natural that they determine what the team culture will look like. Sophomore Josie Hood felt that this year, despite all the challenges brought on by the pandemic, brought her and her fellow swimmers closer together. “The team is so welcoming and we always have so much fun together,” Hood said. With 26 girls, it’s hard to imagine there would ever be a lack of energy among the group. “I never fail to laugh at practice,” she said.
Senior Riley Sabin, who has been a part of the Marian swim program since she moved to Omaha her sophomore year, has also had many great experiences with her teammates.
“The environment is so amazing. When I tried out for the team I was so excited because I loved it,” she said. Much of what Marian emphasizes, and is especially prominent on its most successful teams, is the aspect of family. “I was able to meet so many new friends that I’ve been able to become so close to,” Sabin said.
If there’s one thing that’s abundantly clear from Kunkel, Hood and Sabin, as well as the unstoppable success of the Marian swim and dive program, it’s this: fun and failure never have, and never will, go together. When athletes are at the top of their game, and are dancing and singing at every moment along the way, there’s no telling what they can’t do.