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Hettinger prepped to build on runner-up finishes

Liv Hettinger of West Fargo swims the backstroke in the 200-yard individual medley during the Eastern Dakota Conference swim meet Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018, at the Hulbert Aquatic Center, West Fargo. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

Liv Hettinger surprised a lot of people with her performance at the 2017 Girls Swimming and Diving State Tournament.

Listed amongst the surprised was Hettinger herself.

After qualifying the year before, Hettinger, then a seventh grader at West Fargo High School, had a mostly nondescript performance, finishing 14th in the 100-yard breaststroke and 15th in the 50 freestyle, while also participating with relay teams that finished seventh and 10th respectively.

But after a gruelling offseason, driven by intense training sessions with her club team the West Fargo Flyers, Hettinger entered her eighth grade season believing she was ready to make a big splash at the state level.

She did just that.

Hettinger had an outstanding day both individually and in relays at the 2017 state race, earning second-place finishes in the 100 backstroke (58.57) and as part of the 200 medley relay team (150:.26).

Though she prepared herself to have such success, Hettinger admits she exceeded her expectations with her performance.

"I was not expecting to do as well as I did," she said. "Not just the placement but the times, I was really happy with that."

Following a second-place swim of 1:01.59 at the Eastern Dakota Conference race Saturday, Hettinger will once again be competing on the big stage this weekend, where she'll take part in the 2018 state race at the Hulbert Aquatic Center in West Fargo.

She and fellow 2017 200 medley runner up Tatum Brooks will also get another shot to capture a title in that event, where they'll be joined by senior Kaytlyn Salter and eighth grader Hannah Potter.

The medley group took first in the event at EDC, swimming a winning time of 1:52.64. Potter also earned a conference championship in the 100 breaststroke for the Packers, who finished second at the nine-team race.

Having gotten past the nerves she admits to feeling two years ago, Hettinger doesn't expect any hiccups this time around, swimming with a confidence that has been noticed by her head coach.

"(Once they've been to state) they already know what to expect," Packer Coach Barb Fisher said. "They already know the feelings they're going to feel, the competition they're going to have. She's been around really tough competition and been in many tense situations. She's ready."

Things will no doubt be tense again this weekend, as a familiar, decorated foe will once again try to deny Hettinger a state title.

Bismarck Century senior Briana Rittenbach, a state record holder in both the 200 medley and 100 back, returns after besting Hettinger in both events in 2017. Rittenbach also earned wins in both events at the WDA race last Saturday, which was easily won by the three-time defending state champion Patriots.

Acknowledging there will be little margin for error, Hettinger knows she can't enter each race intimidated, choosing instead to adopt the mindset that she can pull off another state tournament surprise.

"You've got to keep working hard and know that she's not unbeatable," she said of Rittenbach. "You can't control how she does, you can only control how you do."

And Hettinger has a very specific idea of how she wants to do.

"I want to win state," she said. "That's a big goal. Maybe that will happen this year, maybe it won't. But my goal is to place high."

Day one of the state tournament begins at 12:30 p.m. Friday, with day two kicking off at 10:30 a.m. Saturday.