Homestead junior diver Samantha Nickerson knows she's the favorite to win the WIAA D1 state title in her event Saturday, Nov. 12, at the UW-Madison Natatorium.
But she makes sure she has a few mental and emotional exercises close at hand to keep the pressure at bay.
"I'm pretty good under pressure right now," she said, as she leads an impressive list of Highlander state swimming qualifiers. "I can minimize my stressors well now. Things like when you're thinking of what you need to do while standing on the board, thinking about what the coach has told you.
"What's surprised me this year is that I'm better at working through things, trying to perfect little things. I understand better what I'm trying to do and then I can try to make corrections when things go wrong."
Nickerson broke her own school 11-dive mark of 511.7 points in winning the WIAA sectional title on Nov. 5 at Cedarburg. Hers was one of three school records set that day for the Highlanders, who finished second to the North Shore Conference champion Bulldogs and advanced. They also broke the school 400-yard free relay record and and the 200 medley relay record.
All told, the Highlanders will send six individuals and two relays to the WIAA D1 state meet at the UW-Madison Natatorium on Saturday, Nov. 12. Nickerson's diving competition will start at 10 a.m. with swimming timed finals at 3 p.m.
Needless to say, coach Becky Young is very pleased.
"I couldn't have asked for a better meet," she said. "Every athlete that competed earned a best time/score in all of their events. It was such an exciting meet to be apart of. I am extremely proud with the team as we head to state. The girls have worked very hard throughout the season, and it's great to see it pay off in the end. We have two more individual events than last year heading to state, and everyone is very excited."
State qualifiers include Nickerson; the 200 medley relay team of Leah Tunney, Caitlyn Lansing, Talia Gottlieb and Lindsey Bjornstad; Gottlieb in the 50 and 100 freestyles; Bjornstad in the 50 and 100 free; Tunney in the 100 backstroke; and the 400 free relay team of Bjornstad, Jayci Scheff, Tunney and Gottlieb.
Aside from Nickerson being the top seed in diving, Bjornstad is also in the fast heat of the 50 free as the 400 free relay.
The qualifying efforts led the Highlanders to a 317-point effort in the 13-team sectional, as Cedarburg won with 366.
Nickerson's score was more than 46 points clear of the field. The Schroeder Aquatic Club diver has been diving since about sixth grade. She said her third-place finish at state last season motivated her for greater things this fall.
"It pushed me to work harder than ever," she said. "It's exciting to be making as much progress as I am in this career I've chosen."
Hers was the only first for Homestead in the meet. Both the 200 medley (1:48.52) and the 400 free relays (3:33.08) claimed runner-up berths. Bjornstad was also second in the 50 free (24.08), while Gottlikeb claimed her berth in the race with a sixth-place effort (24.56).
Bjornstad was third in the 100 free (52.62), while Gottlieb was seventh but still earned state lane with a 53.71 time.
Tunnhey grabbed her backstroke spot with a fourth-place effort (59.06).
"The girls set a goal to break the medley relay record as they were very close last year," Young said. "However, the 400 free relay was a surprise. I still can't believe they went that fast."
She added the Highlanders have the potential of knocking down two more individual school marks at state.
Other good finishes for the Highlanders at state included the following: diving: Hannah Tracy, eighth (334.6); 200 free: Tunney, third (1:56.89), Kailey Carbone, 13th (2:06.53); 200 individual medley: Scheff, fifth (2:14.28), Clara Huskin, seventh (2:17.63); 100 butterfly: Scheff, seventh (1:02.53); 500 free: Catherine Seiberlich, sixth (5:39.2), Carbone, seventh (5:39.21); 200 free relay: Alex Buchanan, Nicole Lennie, Huskin and Scheff, sixth (1:43.79); 100 backstroke: Esther Zelenovskiy, 15th (1:05.71); and 100 breaststroke: Lansing, fifth (1:09.48), Huskin, eighth (1:10.04), Seiberlich, ninth (1:10.13).