Nadia Helm, Addie Diaz and Regan Miller stood on the podium at the conclusion of the Class AA State Girls Swimming and Diving Championships Nov. 20 at Jean K. Freeman Aquatic Center at the University of Minnesota.
The last swims complete for the three Minnetonka seniors.
If it felt familiar, it's because it was. The same trio stood on that podium together as freshmen in 2018, helping the Skippers finish second in the 400-yard freestyle relay. In total, five ninth graders, Rachel Shelstad and Quinci Wheeler as well, were part of a team runner-up finish that season.
A youth movement for Minnetonka.
Three years later, this time, though, the senior class stood on the podium as champions. The first Minnetonka girls team to win a state team championship since 1976. The Skippers scored 381 points, well ahead of three-time defending champion Edina with 223.
They celebrated with state championship apparel, white hats, the brainchild of senior captain Ellie Kapeller.
"To have a captainship passed on from sister-to-sister was special," said Kapeller, the younger sister of former state champion Abby Kapeller. "I think a lot of this success is owed to Dan Berve as well. You're just never going to see a team like that ever again, and to be a part of it, a captain, was special."
Then head coach Dan Berve said of the freshmen in 2018, "I feel like it's only going to get better with this group going forward."
Berve, now living in Denver, returned to Minnesota over the weekend for a moment he said "he couldn't miss."
A state meet that saw Minnetonka put seven seniors on the podium. A state meet that saw Minnetonka defend its title in the 200-yard medley and 400-yard freestyle relays.
"I remember my freshman year, our senior class was half of the team. I think all of us wanted this to happen, and the last four years we worked to make it happen. I'm really happy that we were able to do this together," Helm said.
This is the conclusion Berve saw for these swimmers in 2018.
"This is the best group of girls I've ever met in my entire life," said Diaz, fighting back tears. "It was such a fun journey, and such a great ending to be state champions. I couldn't be prouder of all of the girls and all of the work we did together."
A year after the state meet was cancelled, Minnetonka the likely champions, the Skippers knew they had one more shot together in 2021.
There was Helm, Diaz, Shelstad, Miller, and Maija Kangas in freestyle events. Wheeler in the breaststroke. Audrey Soetanto in the individual medley and butterfly. Those seven seniors totaled 149 points in individual events in the meet.
Helm (51.52), Kangas (52.07) and Soetanto (52.19) were joined by sophomore Paige Dillon (52.10) in capping the state meet with an All-American consideration time of 3:27.88 in the 400-yard freestyle relay.
"To be able to grow with these girls, to have my senior classmates as best friends, being able to share this with them has just been the best experience," Kangas said.
The opening race, the 200-yard medley relay, was where the night began, Miller's anchor freestyle leg of 22.62 seconds rallying Minnetonka past Eden Prairie over the final 50 yards for an All-American time of 1:42.97.
Just three hundredths of a second off a school record.
It was the second state championship in the event for Wheeler and Miller (2019) and first for Dillon and freshman Annabelle Wentzel.
"It was kind of a replay from sophomore year when we won that relay. That relay sets us up for the rest of the meet. It's really crucial to win that race because it gives us extra energy for the races to come," Miller said.
Minnetonka had a top-eight finish in all 11 races, with multiple all-state swimmers in six events.
Diaz collected her fourth and fifth podium finishes in the 200- and 500-yard freestyle events, taking sixth (1:52.69) and third (5:00.20), respectively.
Kangas joined her teammate on the podium in each race, earning her first state individual medals in seventh place in the 500 freestyle (5:03.97) and eighth in the 200 freestyle (1:53.72).
Helm had the swim of the meet for Minnetonka, moving up two positions from the preliminaries in the 200 freestyle with a runner-up time of 1:50.59, a personal-best. The time had Helm gasping, and Diaz in the lane next to her beaming with pride.
Miller and Helm gave Shakopee state champion Haley Zelen a run in the 100-yard freestyle championship finals, placing second and third in 51.05 and 51.18. Miller was runner-up in the 50-yard freestyle to Eden Prairie's Caroline Larsen with the first of two All-American consideration times (23.29).
Miller's near-misses included a second-place 200-yard freestyle relay with Helm, Shelstad and Wentzel. Edina topped the Skippers, the defending champions and top seed into the finals, by 11 hundredths of a second (1:34.36).
Miller (23.38), Shelstad (23.69) and Helm (23.22) were part of the 2019 championship 200 freestyle relay team.
"It was incredible to train with them the last four years. It just means so much that we won this together," Shelstad said.
Wheeler, fifth as a sophomore in the 100-yard breaststroke, matched that as a senior, a state personal-best of 1:04.36.
Dillon put together her best 200 individual medley, a time of 2:05.41, for second place for Minnetonka. She was also fifth in the 100-yard backstroke in 55.94.
Podium finishes also went to Wentzel in the 200 individual medley (eighth) and 100-yard butterfly (fifth, 56.37), juniors Maggie Rhodes and Emily Harstad in the butterfly (sixth and seventh, 56.73 and 56.87), and Rhodes in the 100 backstroke (sixth, 57.03).
"Over the past year I have learned so much from them," Minnetonka senior captain Alison Koch said. "We've been through so much together. Last year was tough, but our bond is so tight we were able to come back and win the title as seniors for the first time in 45 years for our school."
Other point-getters were Soetanto in the 200 individual medley (ninth, 2:07.17) and 100 butterfly (13th, 58.29), Shelstad in the 50 freestyle (14th, 24.31), Erica Weeks in the 500 freestyle (14th, 5:09.90), Henley Hatzung in the 100 backstroke (ninth, 57.99), and Rylie Ulett in the 100 breaststroke (11th, 1:05.66).
Soetanto's individual medley swim was the fourth-fastest of the 16 finalists.
Senior Rachel Patton posted two of her top dive scores over her last attempts in the finals Nov. 20, placing 11th for Minnetonka with 344.70 points.
"Being in that last race of the meet, the last race of my high school career, to finish first, I couldn't have imagined it going any other way. There's no one I would have wanted to do this with then these girls," Soetanto said.