The Sartell girls swim team came into this season with a winning tradition behind them — and with some very difficult swimsuits to fill.
The Sabres finished second in last year’s Class A state swim meet, and won state championships in both 2009 and 2011. But most of the swimmers on those teams have graduated.
“We had a really special team in 2011, and last year was no different,” Sartell head coach Dave Olson said. “We graduated a lot of those girls and now we’re rebuilding our team back to that form.”
‘Reloading’ might be more accurate. The Sabres have another outstanding team, and they have a nucleus of strong young swimmers to build around for the next couple of years.
“We have a really strong junior class and a lot of versatility on our team,” Olson said. “The girls work hard year round, and their summer training really shows when they get in the pool in the fall.”
It also helps to have leadership and talent in swimmers like junior captains Lindsey Martens and Gabby Hagen.
“We just want the girls to know that working hard is fun and it really pays off,” Martens said.
“Every day I can go out there and expect my core leaders to do well,” said Olson. “I don’t have to worry about not having that go-to group of girls.”
Hagen, who swims the 100 butterfly and the 200 individual medley, is hoping for a top-eight finish at state this season. She’s making a strong case to do it with the times she has posted so far.
“My goal is to be a top contender in my events,” Hagen said, “but overall I just want our team to score as high as possible.”
Martens, who excels in the breaststroke and the butterfly, wants to be in that top 16 range at state.
“I want us to excel in our relays,” said Martens, “and top three is definitely reachable.”
The Sabres maintain a grueling training regimen, but it produces results. They practice six days a week, and twice a day on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
“We get up early and swim at the crack of dawn,” said Olson, whose team is 5-1 in dual meets this season. “It’s a great way for these girls to keep their strokes intact, and in the end it’ll pay off when we start resting for the final meets of the year.”
Olson’s coaching style is relaxed. He puts his faith in his swimmers to perform, and he caters to each girl’s specialties and abilities instead of lumping everyone together.
“We practice a lot of hours and get to know each other really well,” Hagen said. “We feed off of each other and push each other to swim fast in practice.”
Another strength of the Sabres is their depth. To go along with standouts like Martens and Hagen, Sartell has talented junior sprinter Jennifer Thompson, and junior distance swimmer Kendra Raths. And eighth-grader Anna Ellis can keep up with just about any of the top swimmers on the team.
“It’s great having such a deep team to work with. It makes the experience that much better,” Olson said. “It allows me to be more more easygoing with the girls.”
Sartell’s divers are another area of strength.
“One of our best divers, Brianna Steffes, is out with an injury,” Olson said. “But Maddie Molitor is diving like crazy, and I’ve got four girls all with section cuts that can do 11 dives.”
“Our goals are attainable,” Hagen said. “We just have to put in the effort.”
That goal for this year’s Sabres is simply living up to their past successes.