November 12, 2013 | 04:18 PMThe atmosphere at Greenfield High School was crazy this Saturday, Badger girls swimming coach Glenn Biller said. A pep band started playing in the bleachers a half an hour before the competitions began.
“This was the first time I’ve ever seen a pep band up in the crowd,” he said.
The girls were competing in the WIAA state sectionals and brimmed with competitive enthusiasm. They had dominated conference opponents all season long, but Biller said he hadn’t seen them fully come together.
That is until he saw them swim on Saturday.
The girls took first place out of 14 teams and dominated the meet. They took first place in five out of 10 swimming events and placed in the top five of all 10.
Biller said it all started with the first event of the meet, the 200-yard medley relay.
He cheered for the girls as they lined up behind the starting blocks and was nervous and excited about what he saw in their faces.
“You could just see the heat coming off of them,” Biller said. “They were just so focused.”
The race began, and the girls hauled off. The girls took second place in the relay despite a low seeding. Biller said they almost won it.
“They dropped six seconds off their best time,” he said, which is a massive time drop. “And right away all the girls saw that.”
He said the rest of the team screamed and cheered and took on a completely new attitude.
“It was just the beginning of a snowball rolling downhill: it just got bigger,” Biller said. “All the girls were excited to get in there and swim … and find out how much time they could drop and how many places they could shoot up.”
In the 50-yard freestyle, junior Kaarin Quaerna took first place and senior Abbey Chappell took second.
Quaerna and Chappell also took first and fifth in the 100-yard freestyle.
Senior Carly O’Brien and freshman Molly Dover swept the top two spots in the 100-yard butterfly. O’Brien took first and Dover second.
O’Brien also took first in the 200-yard individual medley. Dover took fourth and freshman Katelyn O’Brien took fifth.
Junior Brooklyn Carlson took third place in the 500-yard and fifth place in the 200-yard freestyles.
The girls 200- and 400-yard freestyle relay teams both took first place.
“The girls were pumped, excited; you could see other teams kind of hanging their heads down low,” Biller said. “And myself, you know, I’m on the sidelines just jumping up and down like a total idiot. But if I have to do back-flips to help them swim faster, then I’ll do that.”
“Most of the other coaches probably think I’m really obnoxious,” he said. “I don’t care, like I said, it was worth it.”
Biller said he didn’t know what to expect from his swimmers before the meet.
Last week at the Southern Lakes Conference meet, he said the girls swam well, but they seemed a little flat despite their first-place finish.
“I don’t know, there was no sense of urgency, they weren’t really excited to swim,” Biller said. “It was just kind of a dull, ho-hum meet. And even myself as a coach … I was more nervous for the outcome than fired up.”
So in the week leading up to sectionals, he said he decided to change things up. He told himself that this week, it was his job to get them excited to swim.
They pumped music in the pool during practice, he said. Instead of focusing on not losing, he said the girls started having fun and focused on cutting down their times – striving for personal bests. They were laughing and dancing in the lanes while they prepared for the biggest meet of the year, he said.
But that wasn’t the only change.
Biller said the girls also went out and bought new extra-tight competitive suits. They wore two swim caps instead of one and shaved off all their body hair – they did everything they could to cut their times down and get an edge.
“They know it’s sectionals, and this is it,” Biller said. “I mean, this is what you’ve worked three months for: getting up three mornings a week at 5 a.m. and putting in work, and then every night for two and a half hours, and Saturdays for three hours. It’s a big sacrifice, and it comes down to one meet, and you’re not going to let that meet go without doing something spectacular.”
Biller said he didn’t know what his expectations were coming into sectionals, but he hoped that the girls would find a way to come together. Though they had been swimming well and practicing hard all year, they still needed a spark to get them to reach their full potential. They needed to start having fun.
“I mean, the week before we thought they needed to relax,” Biller said. “Well, this team just needs to... they need to dance.”
Four girls will compete in the state meet this Saturday in Madison. O’Brien and Quaerna will compete in both relays and individual meets. Chappell and Brooklyn Carlson will compete in relays only.
The meet starts at 3 p.m. this Saturday at the University of Wisconsin – Madison’s Natatorium.