West Fargo

West Fargo Sheyenne swimmers Greta Bellas and Tierney Howell experience similar success in the pool, but carry themselves quite differently before the action.

Bellas likes to jump around and loosen up while Howell takes a more dialed-in, focused approach.

“I just like to mess around and have some fun and get out of my head before races,” Bellas, a senior, said.

“We know how to get each other excited, even though Greta needs to be with people so she’s out of her head and I like to be ready and into my own head,” the junior Howell added.

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Winning is the common denominator between the two.

The duo helped boost the Mustangs to a dominant Eastern Dakota Conference girls swimming and diving title last Saturday at Hulbert Aquatic Center. Sheyenne racked up 554 team points, 268 more than second-place West Fargo.

At the EDC meet, Howell won the 200-yard individual medley and 100 butterfly and Bellas was victorious in the 200 freestyle. Bellas followed Howell in the 100 fly with a second-place finish, about 1.27 seconds back. They were also each on the first-place 200 medley relay squad with Lauren McDonagh and Caitlyn Bjerke, and winning 400 freestyle relay team with McDonagh and Brooklyn Keney.

“They both have pretty positive attitudes every day,” Sheyenne head coach Erich Richardson said of the duo. “They also show up ready to put the work in at practice and regardless if they’re trying or not, they inspire the underclassmen. Because those girls want to get the same accolades (as Howell and Bellas).”

Sheyenne will look to continue that success at the North Dakota state girls swimming and diving tournament at the Bismarck State College Aquatic and Wellness Center in Bismarck. The two-day event begins Friday with diving preliminaries at 12:30 p.m. and swimming prelims at 3:30 p.m.

Both Howell and Bellas have an individual state crown to defend. Howell is coming off a 2020 in which she won the 100 butterfly. Bellas claimed a state championship in the 500 freestyle a year ago.

Entering Friday’s prelims, Bellas has the fastest seed time in the 500 and second-fastest in the 200 freestyle. Howell boasts the second-fastest seed time in both the 100 butterfly and 50 freestyle.

“I just gotta realize that I know I can do this,” Howell said of defending her butterfly state title. “I’ve been a little too much in my head this season and have to realize I’ve done it before and can do it again.”

The Mustangs have a couple additional swimmers with high seed times. Keney, a sophomore, has the fourth-fastest seed time in the 200 freestyle entering the Friday prelims. Lauren McDonagh boasts the second-fastest seed time in the 100 breaststroke entering Friday.

As a team, Sheyenne has been the state runner-up the past two seasons, both to six-time defending state champion Bismarck Century.

Richardson said the key to getting past Century is the relay events.

“I think it’s going to come down to the relays on Saturday,” Richardson said. “Sheyenne, Century and Minot are all really close. And people are going to move around a lot entering the prelims on Friday. The relays being 40 points is going to change the trajectory of the meet.”

The Mustangs are poised to finish high in those crucial relays. Sheyenne enters Friday’s prelims with the second-fastest seed times in each relay race (200 medley, 200 freestyle, 400 freestyle).

It wasn’t Sheyenne dominance from Day 1 this season, however. Coming off the pandemic year, the team had to find its rhythm before settling in, Richardson said.

“When we started the year, the kids were coming off the COVID year. It took us a few weeks to get it together as a group,” he said. “We lost our first dual against Moorhead. Girls were swimming off events, not swimming their own events. Once they started to get in shape, they started performing at a lot higher level.”

Bringing home a state title would put the cherry on top and give a sense of validation for Bellas and the Mustangs.

“That would be amazing for us,” Bellas said. “These girls have worked so hard and this team has come so far and it used to be the smallest team. It’s great to see how big the team has grown, and see the determination and challenge that has come out of the team. Winning would prove we worked hard for it and it’d feel great to hold that title.”

North Dakota state girls swimming and diving tournament

When: Saturday, Nov. 13, at Bismarck State College Aquatics and Wellness Center

Times: Diving semifinals scheduled to begin 10:30 a.m. Saturday; swimming warmups start at noon; all Saturday finals scheduled to begin 1:15 p.m.

Tickets: Daily — adults $15; students $5; tournament — adults (reserved) $30; students (unreserved) $10

How to watch: Final day of the meet will be streamed online on NFHS Network (subscription required)