Taylor Knuth pretty much knows the lay of the land.
Make that the lay of the swimming pool.
The senior diver from Plymouth is making her fourth trip to the WIAA State Girls Swimming and Diving Meet after earning a sectional title last week.
“I know what it feels like under the pressure,” she said at a recent practice, noting she hopes her years of experience will help her at today’s meet in Madison. “I know how State’s usually scored and I’ve seen the facilities so I’m used to like the colors and everything that’s in there.”
She and a troop of local swimmers and divers is set to compete in this weekend’s state championship meets. Plymouth is sending six athletes — including the highly touted Knuth — while Sheboygan North, Kohler Splash and Kiel/Elkhart Lake-Glenbeulah will put a combined seven girls in the University of Wisconsin’s Natatorium between today and tomorrow.
Plymouth, Kohler Splash and Kiel/Elkhart Lake will compete in Division 2 competition today, before Division 1 North hits the water Saturday.
Knuth could take home a top-tier finish if she meets her seeded expectations. The senior who started diving just four years ago after transitioning in high school from an earlier gymnastics career carries the second-best qualifying performance into State.
“It’s definitely scored harder at State, so the key is to not stress yourself out about the lower scores if it does happen,” said Knuth of the keys to success she’s picked up in her three previous trips to State.
“She had gymnastics experience, which was really a help for her,” Plymouth coach Mike Slagle said. “Problem with the gymnasts is they always want to land on their feet, so she did have to learn how to go head-first. Through the course of her four years, she’s shown much improvement throughout the four years that she dove here at Plymouth.”
Haley Olsen will compete alongside Knuth on the diving board. Delaney Olsen, Anna Theisen, Maddie Strutz and Meghan Roelse are slated to compete in the 400 freestyle relay, and Strutz will compete individually in the 100 freestyle.
“State is really fun,” said Delaney Olsen, who noted her first trip to Madison last year was “kind of intimidating,” but now she knows what to expect.
Olsen was an Irish dancer before joint problems forced her away from all “impact” sports and activities and into the pool several years ago. She’s turned the water into a second home.
“When they told me the only sport I could do was swimming, I was really sad,” said said. “But then I just put my heart into it and I found that I’m actually kind of good.”
The Golden Raiders are sending four relay swimmers — plus two alternates — to Saturday’s Division 1 state meet.
Juniors Logan Gerbitz and Gabrielle Tauscheck and freshmen Erin Fehrman and Ashlyn Prisinger dropped about 5 seconds off their usual time in the 400 freestyle relay at sectionals last week, giving them a No. 16 seed at State. Abby Veeser and Jessica Moyer are expected to accompany them as alternates.
“It was a great meet for us,” coach Chad Prisinger said of North’s sectional, which saw another Raiders relay team just narrowly miss advancing to State.
“We just swam the best race that we’ve had all year,” Gerbitz, who’s raced at State before, said at a recent North practice and referring to the 400 freestyle relay team’s sectional performance.
Saturday will mark a return trip to Madison for a few of North’s swimmers — Gerbitz and Tauscheck have raced at State before — but will be an eye-opener for some of the relay team’s younger members.
“Words can’t even describe it,” Ashlyn Prisinger, who’s swum competitively since she was about 6, said of her feelings advancing to State as a freshman. “It feels a lot more surreal than getting to state for my Y team.”
Moving down a division certainly didn’t hurt the four-school swimming co-op.
Not that Splash — which includes swimmers this year from Kohler, Sheboygan Falls and Sheboygan Lutheran; Sheboygan Christian is also included in the co-op, but didn’t put any athletes on the team this fall — was hurting for competitive talent when it was a Division 1 program last year. Back then, before Elkhart Lake-Glenbeulah left to form a co-op this year with Kiel, the team still put a swimmer at State (that’d be Elizabeth Falconer, who competed last year in the Division 1 State Meet).
Shedding a school and dropping to Division 2 only helped. Splash this year is sending two swimmers back to State: sophomore Emma Herold and freshman Kellie Hoekstra.
“It’s awesome to go back-to-back,” coach Sharon Ellifson said. “… It definitely shows that hard work pays off. I know that both girls swim pretty much year-round.”
Herold said the move to a smaller division “did have an impact,” but noted the road to the Division 2 championship meet wasn’t easy either.
“It feels rewarding,” she said of her high No. 6 seed at State. “All the hard work that we’ve put in this year, and all the practicing and working on technique has really paid off for me, so I’m excited about that.”
Hoekstra, who’s been swimming competitively since she was 5, said she’s excited about the next few years, noting a bevy of talent in younger grades could help Splash send more girls to State.
“I’m hoping on making it next year again,” she said. “Our relays should be able to make it. I’m hoping with the upcoming eighth graders that are coming up we should have a very strong team next year.”
Brooke Iserloth was a bit nervous at her inaugural state diving appearance last year. But she doesn’t think she’ll have the same jitters today.
“Definitely not as nervous as I was last year,” Iserloth, who advanced to the Division 2 diving competition for the second straight year, said during practice this week. “I know what it’s going to be like to go back in and it’ll be a lot easier this time.”
Despite getting a late start in the sport — she started swimming in sixth grade, but didn’t start diving until she was a sophomore — she’s navigated a steep learning curve quickly. She took 16th place at State last year, and is seeded 11th in today’s competition.
She’s also taken on a leadership role for some of the team’s younger divers.
“We’ve had a bunch of new divers on; she took them under her wing,” said Darryll Matthies, Iserloth’s diving coach.
“Last year she was very very tense, and it showed,” Matthies added, noting tension can particularly affect divers, whose performances are easily thrown off by nerves. “… This year I don’t think she’ll have that (tension) going in because she knows the experience.”