Normally, she’d treat the high school state meet as just another event.
That’s the mantra Abbie Dolan and her Visitation swimming and diving teammates always try to take.
“We don’t want to get caught up in one meet or past success,” she said. “We really pride ourselves on putting the same effort and focus into each one.”
Still, Dolan anticipates it will be a little different this time around. The senior, a five-time state champion, will swim in her final state meet this week at the University of Minnesota Aquatic Center.
She and her talented teammates once again enter as the favorite in Class 1A, a status the program has held for about 10 years. Dolan, a future Notre Dame swimmer, is favored to three-peat in the 100-yard freestyle and is looking to break her state record.
“I really love the state meet,” she said. “It’s something I look forward to the whole year. I know we all do. It’ll be sad knowing it’s the last one, but I’m really just going to try to soak it all in and enjoy it. It’s an amazing experience to go through, especially with such great teammates.”
One star swimmer does not make a successful program in girls’ swimming and diving. At Visitation there are five, at least, and that’s only the captains.
“It’s an immensely talented group,” coach Nate Linscheid said. “These are girls that not only have won state titles and been among the best in the state, but they’ve swam some of the fastest times ever for the state.”
Among seniors, Emily Conners had two individual top-four finishes at state last year (third in the 50-yard freestyle and fourth in the 100 free), and Emily Kishish was seventh in both the 100-yard breaststroke and the 100-yard butterfly. Kishish also finished 11th in the 500 free, giving her three finals appearances with three different strokes.
Juniors Lorelei Gaertner and Grace Snyder also had top-five finishes in individual events. Including Dolan, each of the five captains participated in at least one relay team that either finished second or first at last year’s meet.
“A lot of that [success] just comes from the attitude the team has,” Dolan said. “We just try to get better, and everyone brings so much passion to it.”
Visitation never had won a state title until 2005. But since that first championship, the school has won six of the past 10, including each of the past two.
Linscheid, who has coached the program for 22 years, said he can remember a distinct shift in the attitude of the team’s leadership as the program turned into one of the state’s best. Now, he said, more than half of his athletes swim with club teams in the offseason, and “a good majority of those girls swim year-round.”
“It’s just an atmosphere where everyone is trying to get better each day,” he said. “Our goal isn’t necessarily to win meets and titles. We want to make sure that everyone has their best season they’ve ever had to that point. If we won state and some of our girls didn’t swim their best, there would be some disappointment. If all of our girls swam great, and we didn’t win, we’d still be very excited about it.”
That approach has served Dolan well, she said. She’ll swim in four events at state: the 100 and 200 free (the latter of which is a new event for her this year), and two freestyle relays.
In 2014, Dolan’s winning time of 49.66 seconds in the 100 free was less than half a second off the state record.
“I’m excited to swim at state one more time,” she said. “It’s hard to not think of it as being different than [other meets]. I just want to enjoy it.”