Penelope Helm stood on the blocks, the second of four legs into the pool in the 400-yard freestyle relay in the Class AA State Girls Swimming and Diving Meet Nov. 16.
A sense of calm in the tensest of moments. Pre-race jitters rarely present in the Minnetonka senior.
Already two relay titles won by the Skippers, trying to become the first team since Edina in 2011 to win all three, Helm posted a 100-yard split of 51.64 seconds, her fastest of the season.
At every exchange, Minnetonka had the lead. And when you have the state's fastest anchor, Abby Kapeller, that sense of calm came over all on the Skippers' side.
Kapeller's final leg of 49.61, nearly a second faster than any other swimmer, helped Minnetonka set a school record in 3:25.09. Sixty-six hundredths of a second faster than the Section 2AA victory one week earlier.
A relay sweep for the Skippers; a runner-up finish to Edina in the team standings for the third consecutive season.
"I have to contribute largely those wins to my relay teams. I couldn't have done it without them and their hard work. It wasn't just me or another person, it took everyone to do what we did," Kapeller said.
As a team, Minnetonka won five of 11 swimming events, Kapeller claiming four championship titles, including individual races in the 50-yard freestyle and 100-yard backstroke.
Minnetonka scored 305 points, behind only the Hornets with a score of 344. Eden Prairie (205), Wayzata (189) and Stillwater (140 1/2) rounded out the top five.
"I just have to say it was an amazing meet and I couldn't have asked for anything better," Kapeller said.
Kapeller, who did not compete on the high school team in 2018, spending a year in training, came back this season with purpose. A purpose of winning multiple state titles.
Third in 2017 in the 50-yard freestyle, fourth in the event in 2016, the Skipper junior accomplished the first of two feats by a staggering 78 hundredths of a second. Her 50 time of 22.60 the second-fastest in state meet history.
Like the 50, seeded first in the 100-yard backstroke, Kapeller made it 2-for-2, a championship school-record time of 53.72. Close with defending champion Chloe Skoog and Katelyn Pennell of Eden Prairie through 50 yards Kapeller broke free with a back-half split of 27.72.
"I really think I needed that year off. Kind of regroup from it. I was frustrated with it. This year was more than anything I could ask for. I was so happy to represent this team and not only perform for myself, but for them," Kapeller said.
While the 400 freestyle relay seemed to be Minnetonka's to win, the other two races were more up in the air. So when the Skippers got the first one, the 200-yard medley relay, why not get the next one.
When they got the first two, why not three.
Trailing into the final leg of the medley race, it took a freestyle swim of 22.76 seconds from Regan Miller to rally Minnetonka to victory. The Skippers' time of 1:43.27 an All-American effort.
Kapeller in backstroke, sophomore Quinci Wheeler in breaststroke and senior Kat Sisombath in butterfly joined Miller, also a 10th grader, in the opening race.
If the 26 hundredths of a second medley victory wasn't thrilling enough, the 200-yard freestyle relay win was even better.
All four splits under 24 seconds, Minnetonka edged Edina by 23 hundredths of a second, an All-American time of 1:34.44.
Senior Jojo Jorgenson, who like Kapeller and Miller were on the podium four times in the meet, opened with a leg of 23.74. Sophomore Rachel Shelstad followed in 23.68 with sophomore Nadia Helm adding a 23.88.
Like she did in the medley relay, Miller was the closer, a swim of 23.14 seconds.
Jorgenson (51.74), Penelope Helm, sophomore Addie Diaz (52.10), and Kapeller closed out the state meet in style.
"I took off my sophomore year as well and when I returned last year and made state I kind of crashed and burned, finishing 16th in the 500 by like six seconds or something. I took it pretty hard. So I'm really happy with how things turned out. Getting to be a part of first state relay," Helm said.
"I'm pretty proud of what I was able to do," she added.
PILING UP THE POINTS
With 22 of 25 swims back for the finals, Minnetonka scored points in all 11 swimming events.
Penelope Helm was fifth in both the 200- and 500-yard freestyle races, times of 1:51.48 and 5:00.71.
"I went into the 500 as the top seed, something I didn't really expect. So I'm pretty proud of what I was able to do," Helm said.
Diaz was eighth in the 200 freestyle (1:53.24) and 10th in the 500 freestyle (5:03.83) with sophomore Maija Kangas taking 12th in the 500 freestyle (5:05.81) and 10th in the 200 individual medley (2:08.34).
Wheeler, the consolation champion in the 100-yard breaststroke in 2018, reached the podium for the first time individually, a fifth-place swim of 1:04.89.
Miller, also a consolation champion in the 50-yard freestyle in 2018, was nearly a half-second faster in a fifth-place finish herself. She added a seventh-place swim in the 100-yard freestyle in 52.06.
Other top-16 finishes came from senior Ashley Frankwitz in the 200 individual medley (2:10.62) and 100-yard butterfly (58.00); Nadia Helm in the 50-yard freestyle (24.29) and 100-yard freestyle (53.28); Ashley Soetanto in the 100-yard butterfly (58.42); and Sisombath in the 100-yard backstroke (57.92).
Minnetonka head coach Dan Berve soaked in his final night at Jean K. Freeman Aquatic Center. A venue that brought him to Minnesota, where he was a five-time All-American collegiate swimmer with the Gophers.
A venue that saw so many moments where Skippers shined, Berve the leader of the swim program at Minnetonka since 2011 with the girls and 2013 with the boys.
A planned move to Colorado after the season, the 2019 State Meet was the finale for Berve and the Skippers.
"The last one is hard. This was a really fun group of girls. They swam well the last day of the season and I am super proud of what they did. We finished the way we wanted to, which was everyone racing their tail off. Exciting to win those three relays. It was a goal we had. I knew it was possible, but it's really hard to do," Berve said.
Year in and year out, Minnetonka is among the best of the best in the pool. The boys team were champions in 2017 and 2018. And that doesn't figure to change with so much talent returning, and so many swimmers and divers in the program.
It's in good hands for whomever takes over.
"I'm very sad to not be doing what I've been doing for a very long time, but at the same time the program is in a great place. We're having girls and guys come in and contribute at a high level. We've grown throughout the years here. They've maintained a really strong presence at the end of every year at the state meet. I don't see any reason why this will change. I was just happy to be the steward for this program for all of these years," Berve said.
For the Minnetonka swimmers, it's tough to say goodbye as well.
"It's sad to lose him. He's definitely the best coach I've ever had. He's going to have a great life in Colorado and we're sure going to miss him. I wish him the best," Kapeller said.
"Like Abby said, he's definitely the best coach I've ever had. I probably wouldn't still be swimming if it wasn't for him. It's bittersweet to see him. I'm sad for those that will still be in the program that they won't have him as their coach anymore," Helm said.