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Visitation girls' swimmer Heather Farley (center) with her teammates at St. Kate's University in St. Paul. (JOEL KOYAMA, STAR TRIBUNE)

 

Visitation’s girls’ swimming and diving program has enjoyed plenty of success over the years, so when coach Nate Linscheid confidently says, “It’s one of the best teams we’ve had,” opposing teams should take notice.

Visitation captured four consecutive state titles from 2005-2008. After finishing in third place last season, the Blazers return nearly all of their Class 1A meet participants this year.

Junior Caroline Gaertner, senior Heather Farley and sophomore Emily Kishish made up three-quarters of the state champion 200-yard medley relay.

“We have great chemistry within that relay,” Farley said. “We didn’t really expect to do that well last year. We just kind of went into it and did our best. It worked out pretty well for us.”

Farley also took second in the 100-yard breaststroke last year. Sophomore Abbie Dolan finished fourth in the 200-yard freestyle relay and third in the 100-yard freestyle relay. Gaertner placed fourth in the 100-yard butterfly and third in the 100-yard backstroke.

Sisters Katie and Emily Conners joined forces with Gaertner and Dolan to grab a fourth-place finish in the 400-yard freestyle relay.

“We’ve picked up right where we left off last year,” Farley said.

The Blazers have a lot of depth on their roster this year, which helps when you’re looking to go after hardware.

“We don’t have one or two really good people,” Farley said. “Everyone contributes to how good our team is, and that’s really important to us.”

The coaching staff also gets credit for the team’s performance. New assistant coach Meghan Weiss is a Visitation alum and former state champion. The girls relate well to her. Weiss also leads the morning dryland workouts, which have been increasing in intensity as the team digs into the season.

But it’s not just the talent, depth and coaching that makes Visitation a perennial contender. It’s the culture.

“The real strength is the familial atmosphere that they continue to foster,” Linscheid said. “They are very supportive of each other, and they have a lot of fun outside of the pool as well.”

Visitation is in a different section this year — Section 1 — that includes strong programs such as Northfield, Mankato West, Albert Lea and others. All four of those teams in Section 1 finished in the top seven at the state meet last year, including defending champion Northfield.

“There’s just a lot more competition but I think it will make us better as a whole,” Farley said.

That doesn’t mean their goal has changed. They’re looking to add to the Visitation mantle in a big way.

“Win state,” Katie Conners said. “That’s what we’re aiming for.”

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