Bailey DuPay notices the difference.

As a Northfield freshman, DuPay won the 2011 Class 1A girls' state diving championship.

The title changed her expectations. It changed the expectations everyone else had for her. Really, it changed the way she would handle -- and judge -- her sophomore season this fall.

Pressure might not be the best word to describe it, DuPay said, but it's the best word she could come up with.

"It's a little more nerve-wracking, that's for sure," she said. "Everyone thinks you're going to win again, but you have to go out there and do it."

Luckily for DuPay, she has a dozen or so Northfield teammates who feel the same way.

Northfield hasn't lost a dual meet against a 1A team all season. The Gators finished second in the True Team state meet on Oct. 20, and that's without using their top teams in a number of relays.

Simply put: Northfield is one of the favorites -- if not the overall favorite -- to be holding the state championship trophy Nov. 17 at the University of Minnesota Aquatics Center.

The team understands the pressure that comes with those expectations.

"It's been a goal of ours all season," coach Deb Seitz said of winning a state championship. "A lot can happen, though. You can only control what you can control, and that's what we've been focusing on."

It'll start with the Class 1A, Section 1 meet Thursday in Austin, Minn.

It's easy, if not a bit time-consuming, for Seitz to point out the Gators' strengths. They have great relay teams. They dominate in diving, the 100 butterfly and 200 butterfly. They have a senior, Claire Walter, who won the Texas Class 4A state title in the 200 freestyle. Eighth-grader Sophia Nevin is less than two seconds off the school record in the 100 breaststroke.

Yet, it's how her team carries itself out of the water that has Seitz seeing it making a strong postseason push.

"They're really competitive girls, but they aren't cutthroat," the first-year head coach said. "If I were most proud of one thing, it would be their character. They're all great sports, and they all help pick each other up so much.

"They swim much better when they're loose and having fun, and they keep each other that way. They're goofy girls."

Sophomore Grete Baker demonstrated what her coach meant while discussing her expectations for state. She is likely to qualify in the 100 fly, 200 IM and as part of two relay teams but quickly changed the subject to her passion for competitive ice fishing.

"My whole world is the water," she said. "I'm either swimming in it or walking on it -- wait, did I just say I walk on water?"

Simple goals

Walters feels the competition level in Minnesota compared to Texas is relatively similar. So her goals aren't much different. She wants a state title in the 200 free, and maybe a school record to go with it.

One difference she has noticed, though, is in the camaraderie of her team at meets.

"There's always a lot of positive vibes," she said. "You always feel like everyone has your back."

That helps, she said, when every opposing team is taking aim at Northfield.

DuPay, who scored a meet record 416.85 at the True Team event, said that her teammates help relieve all the pressure for each other.

"There's pressure in every aspect for us," she said, "but we can't worry about that. All you can do is go out there and try to do the best you can. I guess that's one thing that doesn't change."