By Jakob Kounkel
After winning the section in epic fashion last year, the Monticello girls’ swimming and diving team will look to recreate a lot of the magic that happened late last fall. Being down by 35 points going into the final day of sections, nearly every girl stepped up and scored points, held position or moved up. They ended up edging out Foley, one of the most solid programs in the state, by a five-point margin.
“It was the ultimate example of a team that trusted each other and encouraged each other and left nothing in the pool — they gave everything they could to get the championship. As a coach, it was amazing to watch. I refused to look at the score until the final event when we realized things might actually work in our favor,” Coach Kristin Zalec stated about her team last season. She said this season is different because the girls that were a part of that team have those great memories to fall back on when things aren’t going well.
“Many returning varsity swimmers and divers were there that day and felt the energy and power that confidence and team mentality can bring, but we also have to remember that all that success we felt last season was because of hard work and preparation and positive thinking. We have to continue that commitment for this long, grueling season — stay positive and remember the end goal,” said Zalec.
Returning for this season is a great core of girls that knows what needs to be done to achieve their goals, which is another section championship and a good conference finish. Maggie Oliverius is Monticello’s most experienced diver; last year she landed a top-16 spot at state. She’s a leader that will be relied upon to set an example for the rest of the team. Alyssa Eckstein (breaststroker and all-around talented swimmer), Grace Farnsworth (flyer, sprinter), Emerson Brooks (breaststroker, sprinter) and Lorna Belchak (back and sprinter) are veteran and returning all-state swimmers that will also play a vital role in scoring and leading this team.
“We are shooting for another section championship and a high finish in the conference, but I think more importantly, we want every young lady on this team to learn her worth and have confidence in her ability to work hard and achieve her goals through positive thinking … And that look on the girls’ faces when they drop time at their taper meet is priceless,” Zalec said. Like most sports in the Mississippi , all the teams are tough and bring a unique challenge.
Zalec is in her 10th season as a coach, and her ninth with Monticello. Experienced coaching is often times vital to a team’s success as a group and as competitors, and the addition of assistant coach Mike Stein helps build a positive culture in the program. Zalec said, “He has brought a passion for team building and has encouraged me to give the girls more time to work on their relationships as teammates.”
“We have a fun group of girls this season. They’re light-hearted and funny, but they know when it’s time to bear down and get to work,” said Zalec.
Monticello, which will be competing in a newly renovated home pool this season, was scheduled to start its season on Tuesday, Aug. 29 with a home meet against Foley. Monti will be back in action on Thursday, Sept. 7 when it hosts Cambridge-Isanti at 6 p.m. at Monticello Middle School.
Jakob Kounkel is a freelance reporter for the Monticello Times