Winning 11 Class 1A state titles since 1999, St. Thomas Academy has dominated the Minnesota high school boys’ swimming scene and nurtured a culture of success that stands out among its peers.
According to coach John Barnes, the triumphs in the pool have mostly to do with the pride his swimmers have in the program.
“These kids love what they do and they buy into the system,” said Barnes, who is in his 16th season as coach. “It’s about remembering the ghosts of the program and knowing what each group has contributed to this team.”
This legacy is well-known to all of the athletes.
“It’s a little intimidating,” said senior captain Jeremy Conners, one of a set of triplets who swim for the Cadets or sister school Visitation. Brother Michael is also a Cadets captain while sister Catherine is a captain for Visitation. “But it provides motivation and courage. You don’t want to be that letdown of the stereotype.”
In addition to their state championships, the Cadets have also won 14 consecutive conference and section titles.
“We don’t have the fastest kids in the state,” Conners said. “But we definitely have the hardest-working. So much of the competing comes from within our own team.”
St. Thomas Academy has also become known for its intimate facilities. With recent improvements benefiting the football and hockey teams, the swimming and diving team continues to practice and compete in one of the smaller and older pools in the conference. In 2011, it was condemned because of structural issues.
“The boys love swimming in our pool,” Barnes said. “Anywhere old — Williams Arena, Fenway [Park], Wrigley [Field], I’m not saying we rank up there, but our pool has character. … It doesn’t take a big crowd to get some energy going.”
While the Cadets have established themselves as a swimming and diving power, they also have established themselves as a team everyone loves to root against. With almost a decade and a half of conference dominance, the Cadets enter each season as the team to beat. Barnes uses that attention to fuel his athletes.
“We embrace it,” he said. “You can’t let it bother you. We know people don’t like us … so we just have fun with it.”
With some of the other revenue-generating sports around the school also having success, the swimming and diving team tends to take a back seat, even with all of the championships.
“I feel that they have earned more of the spotlight than they have received,” Eagan swimming and diving coach Chris Morgan said in an e-mail. “They just expect more and get it.”
For their part, Barnes and his team know there is room to improve, no matter how many times they’re crowned champions.
“We try to get .00005 percent better every day,” Barnes said. “We can’t control what the other guys do.”