Hutchinson boasts two of the best girls' swimmers in the state in junior Lexi Kucera and freshman Grace Hanson. In a sport that celebrates individual success, they also bring a team-first mentality.

"They are always willing to swim any event, without complaint, that will give our team the best opportunity to win," Hutchinson coach Rory Fairbanks said.

The tandem returns with even more incentive in that regard this season. They had their sights set on the Tigers winning the program's fifth state championship a year ago, but came up short. Visitation edged Hutchinson by 6.5 points (247.5-241) for the Class 1A crown.

"We understand that overtaking Visitation is going to be very difficult," Fairbanks said. "Our goal is the same: improve from last year.

"Even though one of our goals is to win the state meet this season, that is not our driving focus. Our focus is to continue to work and compete as a family, and ensure everyone improves."

Fairbanks welcomes back everybody from last year's squad. The added experience and depth could pay off.

"We have a special group of young ladies on the team," Fairbanks said. "They truly care about each and push each other to be the best they can be."

Kucera, in the 100-yard freestyle, and Hanson, in the 50 freestyle, were the only individual winners for Hutchinson in the state meet a year ago. They both also swam a leg on Hutchinson's state championship 200 and 400 freestyle relay teams. Hanson swam the opening leg on both relays, Kucera the anchor.

"Lexi can swim any event very well. She is diligent about perfecting her technique and improving her race strategies," Fairbanks said. "Grace has been one of the top club swimmers in her age group for years. She has improved her technique immensely over the past two years and has become one of the best sprinters in the state.

"It's a rarity when you get to their level of talent in a sport."

2A loses star power

Three defending state champions in Class 2A are bypassing the high school season this year to swim for their club teams.

They are Blaine junior Isabelle Stadden (100 backstroke and 200 individual medley), Roseville junior Pyper Doo (100 freestyle) and Minnetonka sophomore Abigail Kapeller (200 medley, 200 freestyle relay teams).