Was there any doubt? Nope, Shakopee teammates Amelie Girard and Arianna Zelen agreed. Haley Zelen was going to be a state champion.
A Section 2AA champion and record holder, Zelen had the fastest preliminary time in the 100-yard freestyle at the Class AA State Girls Swimming and Diving Championships. Now it was about repeating that performance in the finals.
Zelen did it, just one-hundredth of a second off her preliminary time. A championship swim of 50.54 seconds, an All-American consideration time, for Shakopee’s first swim title in two decades.
“It feels really good, honestly. I was extremely nervous, so I’m glad all of my hard work paid off,” Zelen said.
The competition for Zelen came in Minnetonka seniors Regan Miller and Nadia Helm; swimmers she had beaten a week earlier at sections at the Hidden Oaks Middle School pool.
But this was state, and the Jean K. Freeman Aquatic Center where the Minnesota Gophers compete. Miller and Helm, past state relay champions. Zelen, who moved to Shakopee in 2020, was taking part in her first state meet after the cancellation of the event last season.
“I definitely had a lot of confidence going in. I knew coming in Regan Miller was going to put up a big competition. That was another nervous thing to think about. But knowing I had gone against her at sections, it was a little nicer knowing I still had it,” Zelen said.
A blistering opening 50 yards under 24 seconds, Zelen backed it up with a 26.58 to finish the race. Only Helm was faster over the final 50 yards. None were faster when putting the race together. The gap more than a half-second between Zelen and Miller.
“I touched the wall and peeked over a little bit and noticed I was there first. Looking at the board just proved that I did get it. I was a little nervous there for a while,” Zelen said.
Shakopee, 31st overall with six team points at the 2019 state meet, was fifth with a score of 135 in 2021.
The Sabers had six swims finish on the podium with all seven entrants returning for the finals.
Zelen finished off her four all-state medal night with the fastest split in the entire 400-yard freestyle relay; a time of 50.01. The next fastest time was 51.52.
Shakopee was second in the bottom relay, a performance of 3:28.84, a school record and All-American consideration time.
Sophomore Erika Schroeder (53.43), Girard (53.24) and Arianna Zelen (52.16) swam the first three legs of the relay team.
The same four swimmers competed together in the 200-yard medley relay, a sixth-place time of 1:46.75, also a school record.
Zelen was seventh in her second race, the 200-yard freestyle, a time of 1:53.16. She swam a 1:51.63 for the fifth seed in the preliminaries.
“Last year we had a little bonus race, so I knew the taper would work. But after my 200 race, I wasn’t feeling great, so I got a little worried, but after warming up for the 100 I started to feel good, I felt confident that things were going to go well,” Zelen said.
Like Zelen, Girard, also a junior, reached the podium four times in the meet. She was sixth in the 200 individual medley in 2:07.74. Girard hit the wall in 58.09 seconds for seventh place in the 100-yard backstroke.
Arianna Zelen, a freshman, earned an individual state medal in the 100-yard breaststroke with an eighth-place clocking of 1:05.76. Zelen was also 10th in the 50-yard freestyle, second in the consolation finals, in 24.10 seconds; a personal-best.
“Our team has really grown in the last two years. We now have a lot of faster incoming girls that will make us pretty good the next couple of years,” Haley Zelen said.