NEBRASKA STATE SWIMMING AND DIVING MEET Thursday-Saturday • Devaney Center, Lincoln
LINCOLN — Spending a little extra time under the water is helping Clara Walstad finish her races even faster this season.
The Lincoln Southwest junior debuted on The World-Herald's all-time Top 10 swimming charts in three events — the 50-yard freestyle, 100 butterfly and 100 backstroke — during the regular season.
Walstad will represent the Silver Hawks in the 50 free and 100 back Friday and Saturday at the Nebraska state high school swimming and diving championships at the Devaney Center. She also will swim a leg on Southwest's state-leading 200 medley and 200 freestyle relays.
Walstad's ability to generate so much power and speed off the turns has at times left a former U.S. Olympian in awe. Southwest coach Leigh Ann Fetter-Witt finished fifth in the 50-meter freestyle at the 1988 Summer Games in Seoul, South Korea.
"She has incredible kickouts," Fetter-Witt said. "She can get so close to the 15-yard mark because she's very efficient on the kickouts. She's generating speed coming off her walls, so it works to her advantage to stay under water as long as possible."
Fetter-Witt said a consistent focus on increasing speed also has played a big part for Walstad and others this season.
"We do a lot of speed training, a lot of sprinting in our practices," Fetter-Witt said. "The shorter races are working very well for her, and I think a lot of that does come from her underwater kickouts. If you can go faster underwater, why not use that to your advantage? We're seeing that a lot more in college swimming."
Walstad is in her first season at Southwest after transferring from Lincoln Southeast. She swam for the Knights as a freshman, but elected to stay with her club team as a sophomore.
After missing the camaraderie of the team environment, Walstad said the time was right to get back in the water to represent her new school.
"I transferred for academic reasons and a better swimming opportunity," Walstad said. "Both the girls and boys teams are a very tight-knit group. We always push each other in practice and dry-land workouts. All of us are very supportive of each other."
Joining a team that won the state title in 2014 and missed out on repeating by 0.5 points last season is another factor that has helped her have a breakout season.
"I've been very humbled by how things have gone this year," Walstad said. "It's been a really good experience, hope to improve more going into my senior year. But first it will be fun to see what happens at state. Try to work with other team members."
Walstad has the fastest time in the state this season in the 100 backstroke (56.41), is No. 2 in the 50 freestyle (23.70) and No. 3 in the 100 butterfly (56.02). Those performances put Walstad No. 3 all-time in the backstroke, No. 10 in the 50 free and No. 6 in the butterfly.
At the state meet, Walstad's chief rival in the backstroke will be Omaha Westside senior Elizabeth Amato-Hanner, the owner of the state record of 55.70. In the 50 free, Walstad also will be racing another state record-holder, her Silver Hawks teammate Olivia Calegan.
Calegan and other top-rated Southwest swimmers — including Dannie Dilsaver, Alana Palmer, Anna Heinrich, Shelby Mullendore and Emma Vertin — are among those many teammates who push Walstad so hard in practice.
"They all push each other day in and day out in practice," Fetter-Witt said. "It's helped raise her level of expectation a little bit. When it's time to get up there and race in meets, it's just like it is in practice."
Walstad said she appreciates the intense practice sessions and how everyone has accepted her into Southwest's covey of swimmers as she helps them chase what they hope is the school's second state swimming title.
"The girls have been very supportive of my swimming career and were excited when I got here," Walstad said. "It would be fun and rewarding to be part of a state championship team, because it just doesn't happen with one or two swimmers.
"It's nice to have really good teammates as well as coaches with everyone working really hard to gain points for the team title."