'Special' bond brings joy to Andover swimmers

  • Article by: DAVID LA VAQUE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 8, 2013 - 5:31 PM

Andover’s swimming and diving team, once beset with indifference, has jelled into a fun bunch.


Andover’s Bella Smits dived into the pool at the start of the 200 freestyle in a meet Thursday against Blaine. Smits has the team’s best times in nearly every event.

Photo: Photos by JEFF WHEELER • jeff.wheeler@startribune.com,

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Andover’s Christina Spanier counts swimming as one of her passions. Anything less and she might not have stuck around for her senior year.

“In past years there were times halfway through the season where I was sick of it and ready to be done,” Spanier said.

Team division. An indifference to commitment. A lack of success. Andover was not a place where swimming and diving thrived in recent seasons.

This year, however, there is “something special in the pool,” coach Marcia Ford said.

Swimmers can feel it, too.

“We’ve bonded more than any other year,” said Spanier, one of the Huskies’ four captains. “The girls are enjoying themselves a lot more.”

Ford brought in a team-building specialist for a one-day workshop and the Huskies’ swimmers and divers put the lessons in motion. Focusing on unity helped unlock individual talents. Andover’s solid dual meet record includes victories against Anoka, Cambridge-Isanti, Champlin Park and Coon Rapids. More important, Spanier said, “no race goes uncheered for.”

Success in and out of the pool, Ford said, defines the team mantra: “Take it to the next level.”

Ford, who started coaching in 1979 and has directed swimmers at the club, high school and collegiate levels, said she preferred working with males rather than females “because there is less drama.” Andover was no exception last season.

“We had a lot of conflicts,” Ford said. “We had girls missing practices or meets.”

To remedy the culture, Ford tried the team building-specialist — a new approach in her work as a coach — to work with the girls.

“We did activities like trying to jump over a really long rope in unison,” Spanier said.

The girls took other suggestions to heart and created a poster for the locker room identifying team goals such as placing first or second in sections and getting all three relay teams to the state meet. Taped around the poster are index cards with girls’ individual goals. In addition, the team holds celebrations after each meet to recognize everything from races won to improved times to fundamental improvements. The girls serenade each accomplishment with noisemakers. The good vibes have been contagious.

“I’ve been on the team six years and I’ve never had so much fun,” said Catrina Linehan, another senior captain. “In past years we focused on ourselves, but now we’re a team that supports each other so much.”

The team is mix of talent and tenacity. Three of Ford’s captains — Spanier, Linehan and Kaylie Bednarczyk — lead by example in the pool. Spanier is a consistent performer in the 100-yard butterfly and 200 individual medley and freestyle events. Linehan is a coachable swimmer who provides points in the 500 freestyle, 100 backstroke and butterfly. Bednarczyk can be counted on for extra points in myriad events.

Freshman Bella Smits holds team-best times in almost every event. Junior Ciarah Thoreson is a ferocious competitor in the 50 and 100 freestyle races “who has won several times by touch-outs because she comes on so strong at the end,” Ford said. Camille Madsen stands out in the 100 breaststroke and 200 IM. Her best time this season in the latter event is already faster than her section time from last fall. Jenna Frank and Allyson Lidtke have made improvements in the 100 backstroke.

Diver Kayla DeGree, also a captain, has helped lead a group of young divers who in turn are pushing her to better scores.

Team-building only works when team members are willing to work at it, and Ford called her captains “the best leadership I’ve had in my coaching career.”

“Honestly I didn’t see them pulling together the way they have,” Ford said. “What they’ve accomplished is a team effort.”

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  • Andover teammates shouted encouragement to the members of their 400-yard freestyle relay team as the team swam to a first-place finish with a time of 3:46:50 against Blaine.

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