The middle of the swimming season is when teams grind through some of their most difficult workouts, the monotony interrupted only briefly by a midweek dual or weekend invitational.
Omaha Marian had plenty of grind time through January but nothing to break up the boredom. The Crusaders went 17 days between competitions, not much fun for the young squad of 17 with just two seniors.
“At times it was kind of tough watching other people move up the leaderboards,” Crusaders coach B.J. Christiansen said. “We had that dual with (Lincoln) Southwest right after the break, and it was really good to get out and race somebody good, regardless of times.
“After that the girls just kept working, and some of that started to pay off at Metro.”
Marian’s biggest test after that Dec. 29 dual with Southwest was the Feb. 8-9 Metro Conference championship meet at Millard West. The Crusaders successfully defended their team title by beating runner-up Elkhorn/Elkhorn South 386-355.
The performance proved Marian is ready to contend for the school’s 14th state swimming and diving team championship at the 46th annual girls meet, which begins Thursday at the Devaney Center in Lincoln.
Southwest is the three-time defending girls team champion and has won four of the past five titles. Each of those four times the Crusaders were the runners-up. Marian edged Southwest by a half-point to win the 2015 title after the SilverHawks won their first state championship in 2014.
This year’s team race again centers on the SilverHawks and Crusaders, with Elkhorn/Elkhorn South, Lincoln East and Papillion-La Vista/Papillion-La Vista South expected to be in the vicinity.
Marian has been looking forward to a title shot this season since the conclusion of the 2018 state meet, though that doesn’t mean winning state has been a big topic of discussion on deck this season.
“They’re aware of it, but we got some feedback last year to not put state up there as such a big meet throughout the season,” Christiansen said. “They wanted to be more focused in practice on learning and working on what they’re doing that day.”
Coaches and swimmers thought the mindset adjustment would help everyone focus on things they can control and not be so concerned with how other teams are doing or preparing.
“They’re all aware we have a good shot at a title,” Christiansen said. “They know where we stand. So they’ve focused more on preparing because they know that’s all they can control.”
Marian will be the No. 1 seed in three of the 12 events — 1-meter diving, the 200-yard medley relay and the 100 backstroke.
Sophomore Megan Carter is the defending state diving champion, and she posted the top mark in the regular season with an 11-dive score of 476.65 points. Teammate Claire Hartley is third with a best score of 429.40.
The medley relay quartet of Maddie Clark, Jocelyn Randby, Isabella Pantano and Amanda Allbery posted the fastest time this season of 1:46.06, which is No. 6 on The World-Herald’s all-time chart. Southwest won the Heartland Conference meet in 1:46.76, which is No. 8 all time.
Pantano is the state’s top-ranked backstroker this season with the 55.40 she posted in December at the Elkhorn Invitational. That time ranks the junior No. 2 all time, trailing only Clara Walstad of Southwest, who set the state record at 54.67 in 2017.
Christiansen said Pantano also will swim the 100 butterfly, and she’s the No. 2 seed behind Millard North’s Hannah Hailu.
“With her the butterfly has been building momentum as the season goes on,” Christiansen said. “Her time at Metro (57.29) was really positive for her.”
Randby is seeded second in both of her events — the 50 freestyle and 100 breaststroke. At the Metro meet, Randby was disqualified from the breaststroke for a false start, and Christiansen said he expects the sophomore to bounce back in Lincoln from that setback.
“Her back leg twitched straight enough for a false start,” Christiansen said. “We talked after the race and after the meet. That’s why we do these meets and use this as a lesson to focus going forward. She won the 50 free and I put her up first in the 200 free relay to reinforce that she can do it.”
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