Hulbert, which has chair seating in its upper deck for 1,100 people, is typically bustling with fans for the conference meet. This year, sounds of silence filled the venue.
Still, the quiet atmosphere didn’t limit any of the noise West Fargo Sheyenne made in the pool.
The Mustangs captured their third straight East Region girls swimming and diving championship Saturday at Hulbert. Sheyenne had a team score of 512 points, a 207-point advantage over second-place West Fargo (305).
“You could really tell that there were no fans and there weren’t all the other teams there,” said sophomore Tierney Howell. “It was much quieter than it has been in previous years. We all had to come together and cheer each other on and make it louder and just as fun.”
West Fargo Sheyenne’s Tierney Howell competes in the 100-yard butterfly during the Border Battle swim meet Saturday, Sept. 19, at the Hulbert Aquatic Center, West Fargo.
Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
Sheyenne won nine of the 12 events at the meet, which was split into three sessions. Seven Mustangs were named to the All-Eastern Dakota Conference team.
Howell, who took first in both the 50-yard freestyle (24.16) and 100-yard freestyle (52.26), could really feel the silence when she approached the starting blocks.
“It’s an adrenaline rush when you hear everyone, and that was a little different this year,” Howell said. “But it was really cool for our team to rally with each other, still trying to create that atmosphere but within our own team.”
Howell helped her team get off to a hot start in the first event of the meet. Her 200 medley relay team with Bree Triplett, Lauren McDonagh and Breanna Lund won with a time of 1 minute, 52.74 seconds.
Junior Greta Bellas clinched the second event for the Mustangs, swimming to a first-place finish in the 200 freestyle (1:55.65). She beat her 2019 region time by .37 seconds.
Bellas took first in the 500 freestyle at 5:16.26, and helped the Mustangs sweep the freestyle relays. The 200 free relay team of McDonagh, Myah Lund, Brooklyn Keney and Bellas won at 1:45.10, while the 400 team of Bellas, Keney, Breanna Lund and Howell clinched the top spot with a time of 3:44.17.
West Fargo Sheyenne’s Greta Bellas competes in the 200-yard freestyle during the Border Battle swim meet Saturday, Sept. 19, at the Hulbert Aquatic Center, West Fargo.
Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
“I think we did a really good job of motivating each other, even though we didn’t have that much competition besides our team at the time,” Bellas said.
Sheyenne swam in the last session Saturday with just one other team — Fargo Davies — in its group.
“It was obviously different than a normal EDC meet for everybody,” Sheyenne head coach Erich Richardson said. “But the girls were still able to get motivated and swim fast.”
Eighth-grader Lauren McDonagh won the 100 breaststroke for Sheyenne with a time of 1:09.21. She bested last year’s EDC time in the event by 1.61 seconds. Triplett rounded out the first-place finishes for Sheyenne in the 100 butterfly (1:02.72).
“I think we have a really cohesive team, despite our age differences,” Bellas said. “Both Tierney and I have been on relays as seventh- and eighth-graders with upperclassmen who were twice our size at the time.”
Sheyenne hasn’t lost a meet yet this year. The team has maintained a positive attitude throughout the season, which Bellas said has been key to their success in the pool.
“We motivate each other at practices. Even our worst, hardest practices, we’ll finish and be like ‘One more guys, we got this. We can keep doing this,’” Howell said. “We have a great coach who will also motivate us.”
Tierney Howell of West Fargo Sheyenne competes in the 100-yard butterfly during the 2018 North Dakota high school girls state swim meet. Pioneer file photo
Richardson said the topic of conversation this season has been internal motivation. With no fans at the region meet, he stressed how important it would be for the team to provide that spark.
“Up until late last week, we were thinking it was gonna be the same for state,” Richardson said on spectators. “So I think that’s going to benefit them since they’ve been working on that. And then they get the added motivation of being with those West teams and having spectators now in Bismarck. It’s going to be enough to put them over the top, I think.”
The Nov. 14 state meet was moved from West Fargo and Fargo to Bismarck and Mandan. The swim portion of the one-day meet will now be held at Bismarck State College Aquatics & Wellness Center, with the diving portion taking place at Mandan High School.
Fans weren’t allowed at either of the original sites for the state meet, but some spectators will be allowed to attend in Bismarck and Mandan.
“We’re all just really grateful we’re going to have a state tournament,” Bellas said. “It feels a little abrupt right now that it’s coming up next week; I think it’s all clicking in everyone’s head now that EDC is over.”
The Mustangs will see their competition from the West for the first time this year at state. There was no crossover between East and West teams this season because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I knew it was going to be us, (Bismarck) Century and probably Minot that had the best teams in the state,” Richardson said. “So it’s a little bit unfortunate that we haven’t been able to compete against them yet this season. But it was nice being able to swim some different events.”
Century won the state championship last year for the fifth year in a row. Sheyenne earned a runner-up finish, the highest state finish in school history.
“We’re nervous, but we’re excited,” Howell said. “You can tell that our whole team is ready for state, but we’re all super nervous. I think our team thrives off competition. We all know we’re the underdogs to Century, and that makes us want to go faster and harder every day.”