Two-plus years of work will come to fruition at the Hulbert Aquatic Center this week.
After receiving a bid to host a Central Zones Swimming event in 2017, the West Fargo Flyers and FM Gators club teams will host one of the largest swim meets to ever come to the state in a four-day tournament that runs this week from Thursday to Sunday.
The 14-and-under Central Zone meet, which is sponsored by USA Swimming, will bring competitors from North Dakota, Minnesota, Arkansas, Iowa, Indiana, Oklahoma, South Dakota as well as the Missouri Valley (the Kansas City area) and Midwestern (Omaha) regions of the country.
This is the first Central Zone event to come to the Fargo-Moorhead area and the first in the state since Bismarck hosted a senior race in 2013.
"This will be the biggest meet we've ever hosted in West Fargo," Flyers coach and president Lisa Montplaisir said. "It'll be the biggest event the Flyers and the eastern part of the state have ever hosted. We're excited and we're nervous and we hope it all goes well."
The meet is expected to bring in over 800 swimmers. To accommodate this, Montplaisir says Hulbert will have 220 volunteers working more than 12 hours a day to occupy roughly 800 positions.
It will also be a new experience on a competitive front for some local swimmers, as several of the 10 swimmers who qualified for the Gators will be swimming at Central Zones for the first time. Many of the newcomers earned their spot over the weekend at the North Dakota LC Championships, where the Gators placed second in the 12-team event with a score of 5,476.5.
Freestyle and butterfly swimmer Tierney Howell, who has previously raced in similar events in Indianapolis, Rochester and Minneapolis admits "it is very scary" racing at Central Zones for the first time, and hopes that racing in their home pool will have a calming effect on her more inexperienced teammates.
It will also be a change of pace for racers who enjoyed the travel aspects of big tournaments.
"The bus rids are my favorite part of zones," said Vaughn Raimo, a backstroke swimmer who also previously raced in Indianapolis, Rochester and Minneapolis. "Travel is my favorite aspect of it.
"But it's going to be really cool (hosting it). We can see what we can do with really big meets."
With additional big events, including a multi-state Sectional tournament slated for 2021, coming to Hulbert in the near future, Montplaisir also views this week as a good opportunity for the center to prove itself worthy of hosting major races.
Saying her "excitement level and nerve lever are both probably at a 9 or 10" in the days leading up to Central Zones, Montplaisir expects things will quickly fall into place when racing begins.
"In terms of running local meets, the Flyers are very good at that and have a reputation for putting on a great meet," she said. "So we know the ins and outs of all of those aspects. You do have to have a track record that you can host an event. We’re pretty comfortable and confident it will go well.”
Day one of the Central Zones meet begin Thursday at 7 a.m.