Freshmen Megan Schultze of Coon Rapids and Reese Dehen of Anoka emerged as two of the top younger swimmers in the state last fall. But their friendship takes them back much further than that.

Schultze and Dehen have been swimming together nine months a year for the past several years as members of the Great Wolf Swim Team, a club they both joined when they were 8-year-olds. Both said the club has given them the chance to bond and paved the way for the success they’ve experienced so far while also helping them establish big goals for the rest of their respective high school careers.

“I know if I wouldn’t have done club I wouldn’t have made the varsity or made it to state. In high school you practice three months, but what do you do the other nine?” said Dehen, who placed 11th at state in the 100-yard breaststroke as an eighth-grader. “The club shaped me into the swimmer I am now.”

Dehen and Schultze joined their club teammates this summer on a train trip to Utah, where they competed in a meet and spent the rest of the time bonding and training at altitude.

“A bunch of us will get together and have fun. Last year we did paint ball and we have team parties at each other’s houses. That’s a big part of it, too,” said Schultze, an 11th-place finisher in the 100 butterfly at state. “In the club we’re taught a lot about setting goals and working hard to achieve those goals, and a lot of that carries over to high school.”

The work ethic certainly is carrying over for Dehen. Her Anoka team holds three optional 5:15 a.m. practices a week. Tornadoes coach John Jacobson said Dehen hasn’t missed one.

“I know my goals for this season and I guess I know the harder I work, the easier it will be to get there,” Dehen said. “That motivates me to get up and do it.”

Schultze takes the same mind-set with her every time she gets in the pool.

“I just say, ‘I’m going to do this,’ and I have a goal in mind and I know how I’m going to achieve it,” she said.

Schultze’s list of goals is a long one. She hopes to eventually set school records in the 100 butterfly, 100 breaststroke and 50 freestyle, win a section title and finish in top eight at the state meet.

“You can’t control what other people do. I just want to do my best,” she said.

Dehen has her sights set on all-state honors, as well. She’s aiming for a top-eight swim in the 200 individual medley and a top-three finish in her specialty, the 100 breaststroke. She also would like to return to state as part of a relay.

“That’s what happened last year, and I’m hoping to do that again with the team,” Dehen said.

Schultze and Dehen teamed up for a club relay this summer and set a new state record. The performance showed just how far they’ve come since practicing together for the first time three years ago.

“I remember we were practicing in the same group, but inside that group we were split off and [Dehen] said she wouldn’t swim in my lane because she wasn’t fast enough for that lane,” Schultze said. “She’s gotten a lot faster the last couple of years.”