Shea Braden competed with the Mound-Westonka/Holy Family girls’ swimming team in the Maroon and Gold Invitational on Sept. 29. Photo by COURTNEY PERRY • Special to the Star Tribune
What were just hopes for the Mound-Westonka/Holy Family girls' swimming team solidified into determined confidence the moment the doors to the Mound-Westonka pool opened for practice in August.
Last season, first-year coach Gretchen Rouse, only two years removed from college swimming herself, worked on building a foundation of hard work and expectations of achievement.
The former eclipsed the latter.
"I think we only won two meets," Rouse said. "But we were putting in the work."
Rouse believed the White Hawks were poised for a much better 2012 season. But even she had no idea how much better things would get.
The White Hawks are undefeated this season, with seven consecutive dual-meet victories and three invitational championships, including a victory in the Bronze Division of the Maroon and Gold Invitational on Saturday at the University of Minnesota.
They have also pulled off some signature victories, beating rival Orono for the first time and handing perennial Class 1A powerhouse Hutchinson its first Wright County Conference loss since joining the league three years ago.
It's a start that has Rouse as shocked as she is overjoyed.
"I had no idea we were going to be this good," she said. "It's exciting."
It didn't take long for Rouse to notice her team was on the verge of a significant step forward. The improvements were obvious as soon as the White Hawks hit the water.
Turnout was higher, a byproduct of Olympic carryover. Many of the returning swimmers had clearly improved over the off-season.
"We picked up a lot of good, young swimmers and you could tell most of the girls had worked hard in the pool to get better," Rouse said.
Topping it off was was the return of a familiar face. Senior Mackenzie Braden, a distance specialist from Holy Family who had taken a year off to focus on her swimming future, was back and determined to make the most out of her final year.
"I love high school swimming," Braden said. "I wanted to give it one last shot. I wanted to swim with my younger sister Shea and I'd heard the new coach was pretty good."
Just like that, promise became presumption and hope was replaced with certainty.
Flush with talent, Mound-Westonka/Holy Family has exceeded nearly of Rouse's expectations. The return of Braden, a rare swimmer who actually enjoys the distance races, was the lynchpin.
Not only could the White Hawks now count on victories in the 200-yard and 500-yard freestyles, but Braden added much-needed speed to the relay teams.
"I didn't know she was coming back until she showed up the first day," Rouse said. "From the first day I met her, I was excited to have her."
Now, the emphasis in on staying on top. Goals include winning the conference meet and sending a large contingent to the Class 1A state meet.
"We have a lot of confidence in ourselves," Rouse said. "We took the phrase, 'Why can't we?' from my old coach. Why can't we win the conference? Why can't we win the state meet? We know what we're capable of."