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EDC champion Mustangs look to make noise at state

West Fargo's Tierney Howell, seen here during an Oct. 6 match against Davies, earned a win in the 100 butter fly and led the Mustangs to a win at Saturday's EDC girls swim meet. File photo.

Erich Richardson admits it hasn't always been easy to get through to his team.

Overseeing a talented, but very young West Fargo Sheyenne girls swimming and diving program, Richardson says there have been times during the 2018 season where his athletes believed, incorrectly, that they didn't stack up against some of their more experienced Eastern Dakota Conference counterparts.

"Sometimes they don't believe (they can compete) just because they're seventh, eighth, ninth graders for the most part," he said. "So they don't always think they can compete with seniors."

Fortunately, if Richardson was looking for a breakthrough moment to convince his team otherwise, he may very well have gotten it last weekend.

An EDC meet many expected to be competitive was anything but, as the Mustangs established dominance from the start, winning their first ever conference title with a score of 434 Saturday. The final talley was 104 points better than runner-up West Fargo.

Though he viewed his team as a serious contender to grab the top spot, Richardson acknowledged he was taken aback by how decisively the Mustangs won.

"I knew we would be in the running for first place but not by as much as we did," he said. "The girls swam above expectations for sure."

Making the margin of victory even more impressive is that it happened on a day where the Mustangs won just one event.

But while Tierney Howell, who won the 100-yard butterfly in 1:01.93, was the only Mustang to capture top honors, she had plenty of company near the top of the leaderboard, as Sheyenne took second in five events and third in another three.

Happy to see such positive results in the short term, Richardson is even more excited about what this could do for his team's future, as everyone who earned a top-two finish Saturday will be back for at least one more season.

Howell, who also took part in second-place finishes in the 200 medley and 400 freestyle relays, is just an eighth grader, as is 400 free teammate Bree Triplett.

Elsewhere, Gretta Bellas (200 and 500 free, 200 medley) is a freshman, Breanna Lund and Abby Triplett (200 medley) are sophomores and Madi Yonke (50 free, 200 medley and 400 free relay) is a junior.

The Mustangs' rising stars will get a chance to compete against the best the state has to offer this weekend, when they take part in the State Tournament at the Hulbert Aquatics Center in West Fargo.

While eager to build on its strong EDC showing, making a serious run at a state title could be an overly ambitious goal for Sheyenne this season. Standing imposingly over the rest of the field is Bismarck Century, which enters as the runaway favorite to win a fourth-consecutive state championship.

The Patriots, who won seven of 12 events at state last year, come in scorching hot following a dominant showing at the Western Dakota Association tourney, in which they took nine first-place finishes and closed the day with a score of 527.

But with the rest of the field seemingly wide open, Sheyenne swimmers say they see this year's tournament as an opportunity to establish themselves as an emerging threat at the state level.

"I think (a lot of people will) be surprised, Howell said. "Because I believe the Mustangs will do really well. I'm thinking second or third."

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