Swimming sistersHeinen and Hansen siblings help lead Spartans to third straight LSC title
By: Emily Kram, Superior Telegram
The echoes of laughter and chit-chat have often filled the Superior High School natatorium this fall. The atmosphere feels more like a family gathering than a mandatory practice, and according to the Spartan girls, that’s exactly why they’ve been successful.
“We’re all just crazy sisters,” said sophomore Nicole Hansen. “We’re like a big family. We get sick of each other, but we all love each other at the same time.”
The SHS girls swimming and diving team won its third straight Lake Superior Conference title last week and this week has been preparing for its upcoming sectional meet at Hudson.
In the pool, the girls have dutifully completed their workouts. Out of the water, they’ve worked to sustain the sisterly bond they created during the season.
“There’s a tremendous bond between people who go through a swim season together,” said George Lehman, SHS head coach. “And not only the swimmers on your own team but your immediate competitors. Everybody realizes how much work they did, how much they put into the sport.”
Swimming demands enormous commitment, Lehman said. Team members put in hours of practice every day and go through intense workouts to cut just a few seconds from their times.
Teams often see participation dwindle midway through the season, but that hasn’t been the case for the Spartans. Superior started and ended the season with the same number of swimmers.
“The younger swimmers who just learned how to swim all bonded with each other and bonded with the team,” Lehman said. “You don’t see that in every sport.”
The Spartans say they are a true family this year, and for a few of them, they mean it literally.
Seniors Kelsey Hansen and Kacie Heinen both have younger sisters on the team — sophomore Nicole Hansen and freshman Kaitlin Heinen.
Nicole and Kelsey swam together last year. They say there’s never been any competitiveness between them.
The sisters typically swim in different events and spend much of their time cheering for each other.
Kacie and Kaitlin are grateful just to be on the same team. With Kaitlin in her first year of high school and Kacie in her last, this will be their only year swimming together for the Spartans.
“It’s a lot of fun. I’m glad I had the chance to actually swim with her,” Kacie said. “People sometimes think that we’re rivals because we sometimes swim the same events, but that’s not the case. We support each other.”
Kaitlin enjoyed swimming with her older sister this year and said she’s always looked up to Kacie, following along in her footsteps whenever she could.
“I started off swimming because Kacie was doing it,” Kaitlin said. “The little sister always likes to follow after the big sister, so I started doing it and I really enjoyed it.”
Kaitlin had an immediate impact for the Spartans this year. She set new school records in the 200 freestyle and 500 freestyle and is within the top five on the all-time list in at least four other events.
Kaitlin’s new record time in the 200 free surpassed the mark set by Sonya Gee in 1994, while her 500 time bested that of Jill Erdman from 1997.
The Spartan girls now look forward to this weekend’s sectional meet and the chance to qualify for the WIAA Division 1 state competition, a feat that has become more challenging in recent years.
“It’s getting really tough to qualify for state,” Lehman said. “Girls swimming is improving so rapidly in a lot of states. Wisconsin has had some national records, and Minnesota had a national record last year in the backstroke. We always have been fairly strong, but we’re really strong swimming states now.”
Times that would have easily qualified for state 15 years ago don’t even come close today, Lehman said. The Spartans are swimming as well as ever, he added, but compared to the gains made in the more populous regions of Wisconsin, Superior and the Twin Ports have been left behind.
The Spartan girls still hope to send a few swimmers to state, but their first goal this weekend will be to improve upon the team’s records.
“Our 200 and 400 freestyle relays have a good chance of breaking the team records,” Kelsey Hansen said. “We’re just going to have to have our best times, get some good starts and hope for the best.”
Kelsey will be joined by Kaitlin Heinen, Victoria Johnson and Grace Elonen in the 200 freestyle relay. The team was ranked seventh of 13 teams heading into Saturday’s sectional meet, but less than seven seconds separate the top seven teams in the 200 distance.
“If our sprinters have a good day, the 200 free relay time of 1:43.8 by those girls in 2002 is definitely in reach,” Lehman said. “If they throw their best times together, they’ll be right there; and the same thing for the 400 free relay.”
Individually, Kaitlin Heinen is Superior’s highest ranked swimmer. She’ll compete in the two events in which she currently holds team and pool records — the 200 freestyle and 500 freestyle — but Lehman said she’ll still need to drop a few more seconds to qualify for state.
The WIAA Division 1 sectional meet at Hudson begins today at 5 p.m. with diving. The swimming competition begins at 1 p.m. Saturday.
Team captains Kelsey Hansen and Kacie Heinen remember their freshman season well. They remember is as the year Superior didn’t win the LSC swimming title.
“The seniors were the only ones who had ever lost conference, so we know how it feels to lose,” Kacie Heinen said. “We used that to make the team want to win even more. It just means a lot for our senior year to say that we won conference and to say that we won it three years in a row.”
The Spartans finished the regular season in a tie with Proctor-Hermantown, losing a meet early in the season and then evening the score in the rematch. At the LSC Championships, Proctor and Superior faced off to determine who would win the conference crown.
Heading into the final event, Superior held a four point lead over Proctor. The Spartans went on to win the 400 freestyle relay and finished 10 points ahead of Proctor.
“I’m glad we won it this year because this year has been one of the hardest working groups, and we’ve really gotten along together,” Kelsey Hansen said. “So it’s just special knowing that you accomplished something as a team.”