FARGO — Not knowing how to swim was never an option for Eric Anderson. Swimming lessons were a requirement.
His parents had a fear of their kids drowning. Anderson, a senior at Fargo Shanley, had to complete each level twice, regardless of whether he passed.
He got tired of doing the same thing, and joined a youth swim team. Since then, he’s never been far from a pool.
“I fell in love with it,” Anderson said.
Those swim lessons have taken him far. Anderson has put together a decorated high school run with five individual state titles.
Anderson, who grew up in Wahpeton, N.D., won three of those titles for the Huskies. He transferred to Shanley, which has a swimming co-op with Fargo South, for his junior year.
“It’s never awful to add a really good swimmer to your swimming and diving team,” said Bruins head coach Pat Anderson. “We were happy about that and we were happy they were going to take the appropriate steps to make it a legal transfer.”
Eric is the three-time defending champion in the 100-yard freestyle and two-time defending champ in the 50 freestyle. He clocked in at 20.56 seconds in the 50 free last year as a junior, and registered a first-place time of 45.67 seconds in the 100 free.
He also swam to a record-breaking time of 45.29 seconds in the 100 free during prelims at last year’s state meet.
Eric is hoping to capture his sixth and seventh state titles at the state boys swimming and diving tournament Saturday, March 6. There’s just one more race left for the two-time double-gold medalist as a Bruin.
The swimming portion of the meet will be held at Bismarck State College Aquatic and Wellness Center, and diving at Mandan High School.
“I still haven’t really hit the ‘Oh, I’m almost done’ moment yet,” said Eric, who was named the NDHSCA outstanding senior athlete of the year. “But I guarantee I’ll hit it at state and it’s gonna be like, ‘Wow. This is my last race as a high school athlete.’”
Eric has developed into a top-tier sprint freestyler. He’s recorded faster times each year at the state tournament.
“He is a hard worker. He’s committed to what he’s doing,” Pat said.
Eric was a half-second off from qualifying for the U.S. Olympic Trials in the 50-meter freestyle, posting the time at the U.S. Open Championships in Des Moines in November. He’ll jump right back into the pool after the state tournament to pursue that dream.
There’ll be a few more opportunities to achieve the Olympic Trial qualifying mark, said Pat, who also coaches Eric’s club team. The time has to be registered in an Olympic-sized pool, which is 50 meters long. The standard competition size for a high school pool is 25 yards in length.
“I’m super hopeful that Eric will be able to achieve it,” Pat said. “The Olympic Trials were supposed to be last summer, so it was kind of a blessing that Eric wasn’t ready to make that cut a year ago. Now that it’s a year later because of the pandemic, he’s definitely right in there.”
Eric signed a letter of intent to swim at South Dakota State in February. The men’s swim and dive team, which competes in the Summit League, was picked to finish third in the conference in the league’s preseason poll.
Eric, who moved to Fargo from Wahpeton less than two years ago, didn’t want to stray far from Fargo or his former home. The campus in Brookings, S.D., is just over two hours south of Wahpeton, where his grandma still lives.
He also wants to go into a commercial aviation career, and South Dakota State offered the program. It was difficult to find schools with both, he said.
Eric took first in the 50 free at last weekend’s Eastern Dakota Conference meet, and swam with two first-place relay teams (200 medley, 200 free). He took second in the 100 breaststroke for the third-place Bruins.
“EDC went amazing. I know our coaches were happy,” Eric said. “I know everybody else was happy with their performances. It was an awesome meet.”
South has competed in about the same amount of meets it would in a non-pandemic year, but all were condensed into duals. Large invites were scrapped, as was any crossover between East Region and West Region teams.
“I think COVID has been a challenge for everyone, but for our team, we've been pretty good about it,” Eric said. “We’ve maintained our social distancing policies and mask policies. Individually, I'm pretty satisfied how the season has been going on. Teamwise, I don’t think we could be any more satisfied.”
Pat and Eric are hoping the team carries that momentum into the state tournament. Just a one-day event, there’ll be two sessions of swimming and one session of diving at state. The Bruins are in the first session.