Teams finally get a hometown feeling at state meet

Foirum News Service Swimmers take to the pool during warm ups at the North Dakota high school boys state swimming meet at the Hulbert Aquatic Center in West Fargo on Friday.

WEST FARGO — If the North Dakota state boys swimming and diving meet could talk, it would probably have a few questions this weekend. Like, for instance, where am I?

For the first time since the debut meet in Mandan in 1975, it’s being held in the state’s largest metro area. The opening of the Hulbert Aquatic Center in West Fargo is the first facility in Fargo-West Fargo capable of hosting the event, and the North Dakota High School Activities Association wasted no time in giving it a chance to host a major high school event.

That in itself seemed so odd that veteran Fargo North head coach Dick Fisher wasn’t really himself on Friday, March 2, prior to the swimming preliminaries.

“It’s weird, I’ve never not had to travel to state,” Fisher said. “It’s rattled me in coming up with an itinerary.”

The meet alternated between Mandan, Minot, Grand Forks and Bismarck since that first year. Jamestown hosted one year in 1976. The state girls meet will be at Hulbert next fall and the boys will return in 2020.

The first-class venue has chair seating in the upper deck for 1,099 people and can hold another 700 on the pool level, although fans are not allowed near the swimmers for the state meet. Still, the hope is the Hulbert Center will attract fans not used to going to swim meets because most venues are too small, or at least have that reputation.

“It helps promote the sport,” said Bismarck Century head coach Dennis Kemmesat, whose team is the five-time defending champions. “People who have not been to a meet can take it in and they’ll probably come back.”

Friday was all about setting each team up for the Saturday, March 3, finals, which start at 1:30 p.m. Minot from the west is expected to push Century, while east teams like North have several swimmers capable of doing damage.”

And by the time the Saturday trophies are handed out, teams will have a pretty good idea if the reputation of the pool being “a fast pool” is true. It’s the actual pool that was used in the 2016 United States Olympic Team Trials at Omaha’s CenturyLink Center that was dismantled and shipped to West Fargo.

The starting blocks? Yes, Michael Phelps used those, too.

Built by Myrtha Pools, the technology behind it makes for less resistance from waves bouncing off the pool walls and back into the swimmers.

“Just the way the water is displaced,” said West Fargo Sheyenne athletic director Ross Richards.

The facility opened in December and already hosted the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference meet, which was hosted by Minnesota State Moorhead.

“We’re still figuring out its capabilities,” Richards said. “What it can do and what it can’t do. Everybody here is learning a little bit more. We’re looking for feedback to help us make it more functional. The seating capability is unique. Hopefully we’ll get more people to come to a meet knowing there are seats and everybody can attend.”

It’s still a construction zone in some areas. The old L.E. Berger pool is being refurbished to a learning pool and diving training zone.

“We’re turning it into a swim center,” Richards said.

And at the conclusion of Friday’s events, instead of boarding a bus for a hotel, Fisher and the North squad probably drove the 10 to 15 minutes back to the northside of Fargo. It’s a new era in metro swimming.

“This is awesome, for most of us if not all of us, this is the nicest facility we’ve ever competed in,” Fisher said. “College, anywhere. It’s on par to what they have at the (University of Minnesota) in every aspect.”