The Panthers were consistently at the top of every dual, triangular and invite they competed in this season, and were bested only by the West’s Jackson Broncs at any meet.
“We know we’re in a position where we can finish higher than we’ve finished in the last seven years, at least as long as I’ve been head coach,” said head coach Luke Robertson.
The Panthers will swim in preliminary heats at 3 p.m. (following the diving portion) today (Thursday) and those who qualify will advance to the finals, which begin at 10 a.m. Friday.
Powell will undoubtedly see many of its girls finish in the top 12 and some in the top six, and could very well be in line for a top-three team finish. The squad has never placed better than sixth in Robertson’s tenure as coach.
“If we did get in the top three, four, five, that would be awesome,” Robertson said.
Powell will bring to Gillette 14 swimmers and one diver, all of whom the coach expects to give their best performance of the season.
“I feel confident that everyone’s going to cut time,” Robertson said.
The 15 state participants are another best in the Robertson era. The increased number of Panthers could mean more team points, but only if each swimmer does her job.
“We need to focus on what we can do individually to try to place where we want to place,” Robertson said.
The coach mentioned he and the Panthers had discussed briefly during a practice where they wanted to finish as a team, but that they were not to discuss it after that and instead focus on doing whatever was necessary to cut time.
Powell’s showing at state will depend heavily on how the girls respond to their previous two weeks of training and rest.
After a second-place finish at the 3A West conference meet in Jackson Oct. 18-19, the Panthers who would move on to state began their tapers (specialized periods of rest to maximize their fitness at state).
But not all tapers are created equal.
Robertson divided his 15 swimmers into three groups and said he was happy with the progress each group made with their specific workouts.
The first group included the qualifiers who had demonstrated fatigue and needed a long, two-week taper.
“They’re still swimming some fast sets,” Robertson said. “But the rest in between (sets) increases and the total yardage (per practice) goes down.”
Another group was comprised of swimmers who were still cutting time as the season ended and required little to no rest.
“They swam pretty hard all last week and really didn’t start to taper until (Monday) and (Tuesday),” Robertson said. “And already you can tell from their times in practice ... they’re already swimming faster.”
A third group fell somewhere in between the two extremes.
Getting swimmers to their physical peaks should produce their best times.
“I’ve really tried to put the focus on cutting time, swimming our events as fast as we can and I’ve put a lot of emphasis the last couple days on relays,” Robertson said.
The three relays — 200 medley, 200 free and 400 free — are the biggest potential point-grabs, but also the hardest events in which to field a successful entry.
Robertson said it took him all season to figure out who would swim the four legs of each relay.
“It was not an easy choice,” he admitted, but relay teams were finalized Oct. 23, one week before the team left for the state meet.
Aside from the swimmers, coaches, bus driver and lots of gear, the Panthers brought four gallons of water with them to Gillette. While it’s well known that hydration is very important for an athlete, this water is not for drinking.
Instead, each senior (Lydia Allen, Baxter Heinert, Katelyn Lang and Hannah Sweet) bottled a gallon of water from the Powell Aquatic Center pool and will pour it into GIllette’s pool prior to the meet.
It’s for good luck — or something like that, said Robertson.
“I’ve never heard of it anywhere else,” Robertson said. “I don’t know how the tradition started.”
Nor does it matter. Especially if Powell finds itself perched atop a podium two days later.