It you want to bring a smile to Brian Luke’s face, just mention the 2011 True Team swimming and diving state meet, which the Stillwater Ponies captured despite facing long odds.
It was the seventh True Team state championship in the eight years it has been contested, but unlike many of those other years this one was as a big a surprise you could have given Stillwater’s track record in this format. Based on seed times entering last year’s state meet, the Ponies trailed Edina — by around 200 points — Wayzata and Minnetonka.
“I am smiling,” the coach said when questioned about last year’s results. “It’s very exciting to get off on a good roll and if you can get started on an up note and just get on a roll, but you also have to stay on that for about three hours. It’s fun to try, let’s put it that way.”
Stillwater enters this year’s state meet a little farther back from the three leading contenders Minnetonka, Eden Prairie and Wayzata, with Edina also remaining in the mix. Stillwater finished 87 points in front of the Hornets a year ago.
“I think we were a little closer last year,” Luke said. “We are more like 360 points out of first, which doesn’t include diving because you can’t really seed diving. It sounds like a lot, and it is, but there is 2,000 points in the meet so it is different than normal scoring — but it’s still a formidable hill to climb. I don’t think you could climb a 300-point hill, they would also need to come back to you.
“Right now, I’d say let’s see if we can get in that top three. We’d have top step it up, but to overcome all three of those teams might be too much, but to get in the top three would be a legitimate goal. If we don’t, but performed the best we could, that will be what we got.”
Stillwater features fewer state title contenders than some previous years, but this format favors the kind of depth the Ponies like to rely on with tremendous participation numbers and strong balance.
“We don’t really have the big kingpins or whatever you want to call them and I don’t think we have anybody seeded first — the best we might is third or fourth — so it’s a little different than what we’re used to, but we still have four kids that can swim pretty fast. The top two are important, but the third and fourth are the ones that can really move around. A few tenths you can jump over a bunch of people, whereas the faster you go the thinner the crowd gets and the harder it is to jump over people.
“It’s still fun to watch and it’s a fun meet. It’s exciting and good swimming and every team that is there has good swimmers.”
Along with Stillwater, Wayzata, Minnetonka, Eden Prairie and Edina, the rest of the True Team state field includes Lakeville North, Hastings, East Ridge, Mounds View Blaine, Maple Grove and Rosemount.
“We’re looking forward to it,” Luke said.