A state title is nothing new to the Minot High girls swimming and diving team, yet last year's championship felt like a long time coming.
After a five-year drought, the Majettes found themselves back atop the podium in 2013, collecting their 23rd state title in program history. But that championship not only gifted them a trophy. Now they have a target on their back, one for which the rest of the state will be aiming.
The Majettes went from title chasers to title defenders last season. They know it will be an uphill battle to repeat.
Minot High junior Emily Hamel is the defending state champion in the 50-meter freestyle. She also was part of the 200 medley and 200 freestyle relay that took first at last year’s state meet.
MDN file photo
Francesca Walker-Rozo is one of 11 seniors on the roster this season. She finished second in both the 100 butterfly and 50 freestyle at the state meet last season.
"You almost have a little target on your back," Minot swimming coach Dan Hinton said. "Last year I felt like we were a little bit of an underdog compared to Century and West Fargo. This year we're not going to fly under the radar like we did last year. That does change the attitude of the season, but again we're going to have our girls prepared mentally to handle whatever gets thrown at them."
Minot returns plenty of experience from last year's title run, including 11 seniors. Among the senior class are Sydney and Alexis Clark, McKenna Brown and Francesca Walker-Rozo. Brown, Walker-Rozo and Sydney Clark were first-team all-state selections last year, along with junior Emily Hamel.
Brown took third in the 500-meter freestyle and fifth in the 100 backstroke at state. Walker-Rozo took second in both the 100 butterfly and 50 freestyle. The Clark twins cracked the top eight in their four individual events, grabbing key points that helped the Majettes fend off West Fargo by 11 points.
"It's been very exciting going into a new season with that championship, but we're very nervous and we hope we can pull it off again," Brown said.
Minot's biggest strength has been its relays, and Hinton believes that to be the case once again this year. The Majettes' 200 medley and 200 freestyle relays took first at state last season. The 200 freestyle relay team of Brown, Walker-Rozo, Hamel and then-sophomore Josie Gillund established a new state-record time of 1 minute, 38.21 seconds.
"Our relays have always been our strong suit," Hinton said. "We've always been able to put four girls on each relay that can really get together and go and swim even faster than they would individually."
The Majettes have depth beyond their seniors, starting with Hamel. She enters this season as the defending state champion in the 50 freestyle and was part of the 200 medley and 200 freestyle relay teams.
Sophomore Savannah Fix is the top returning diver following the loss of Emmalee Stach and Maddie Bickel. Fix took 13th at state last season with 329.60 points.
"Diving, we have lots of younger girls who are going to improve throughout the year," Brown said.
Given their rich swimming history, the Majettes always feel pressure to perform well. Now as the defending state champions, the Majettes know every team will be looking to knock them off their pedestal.
"Our girls know that we have to give a lot of respect to Bismarck Century, West Fargo and Fargo North," Hinton said. "Throw Mandan in the mix and even Fargo South or Williston. Any one of these teams has got girls that can take points away from us. As defending state champs and even just being Minot, we've got a lot of history with winning and state titles. Even if we're not the No. 1 team, it seems like teams are gunning to beat Minot."
The Majettes host an intrasquad scrimmage on Thursday at 4:30 p.m. before opening their season with a home dual against Mandan on Sept. 5, which begins at 5 p.m. at Magic City Campus.
Mike Kraft covers Minot High athletics and general assignments. Follow him on Twitter @MKraft24_MDN.