Peyton D’Emanuele, Elle Niebuhr, Sigrid Schwarzkopf and Olivia Walton had always been close. But the foursome said they became especially tight this fall as they developed into a state tournament-participating relay unit for Southwest High School’s swim team.
D’Emanuele, Niebuhr, Schwarzkopf and Walton, all 11th-graders, placed 10th in the 200-yard and 400-yard freestyle relays at the Class 2A state girl’s swimming and diving meet, held Nov. 16 at the University of Minnesota’s Jean K. Freeman Aquatics Center. Their 200 free relay time set a Minneapolis City Conference record, according to Southwest coach Chris Aarseth.
In addition, Niebuhr took third in the 500 free and 10th in the 200 free, and D’Emanuele won a state title in the 100 butterfly. With the win, she became the first female swimmer from Southwest to claim a state title since 1977, Aarseth said.
Niebuhr said the foursome knew from their first day of practice that they would probably compete together in the relays this year. She said they spent most of their practice time swimming in the same lane at the Southwest pool, which helped them improve.
“I feel we just work so well together,” she said. “We all bring different aspects to the table that make us just like click so well.”
D’Emanuele, Niebuhr, Schwarzkopf and Walton each swam for Southwest for at least three years but on different relays teams. That changed this fall, because the team graduated two of its top swimmers from last year, including four-time state participant Amelia Baxley.
The foursome qualified for state in the 200 and 400 free relays at the Class 2A, Section 6 meet on Nov. 10. They entered the state meet with the goal of finishing in the top eight in the preliminaries of both events, which would have ensured them a spot in the finals.
D’Emanuele, Niebuhr, Schwarzkopf and Walton finished about eight-tenths of a second out of the top eight in the 200 relay preliminaries and less than two-tenths of a second out in the 400 relay preliminaries. D’Emanuele said they were disappointed when they got out of the pool but didn’t have any regrets.
“We knew we had done the best that we could together,” Walton said. “That really helped us going into the finals.”
The relay success for D’Emanuele, Niebuhr, Schwarzkopf and Walton came after D’Emanuele and Niebuhr had individual success earlier in the state meet. D’Emanuele won the 100 butterfly by over six-tenths of a second, finishing ahead of the swimmer who had won the race in 2017 and earning All-American status. Niebuhr cut over three seconds from her 2017 time in the 500 free, becoming the first female swimmer in Minneapolis to swim the event in under five minutes.
D’Emanuele said she worked really hard with her club team after last high school season, adding that she knew she was better and stronger entering the 2018 season. She said she was really nervous going into the finals but that she also felt ready, later adding that it was rewarding to finish the race in first place.
“Knowing that I was racing practically the same people, it was really nice to see,” she said.
Southwest assistant coach Amy Yeager noted the amount of time all four swimmers put in during the offseason to improve as swimmers. She said the four girls take feedback well and oftentimes seek it out.
“They’re constantly looking for that positive feedback and ways they can improve,” Yeager said. “I think that makes coaching them really fun.”
Aarseth noted the different characteristics each of the girls brings to the pool, from a flawless stroke for Walton to a strong work ethic for Schwarzkopf. He said they might not be the best athletes at Southwest, or even on the swim team, but that they’re the hardest workers on the team.
Niebuhr said her personal goals for next season include finishing in the top eight at state in both the 200 and 500 free. She also said that she’d like for the relay team to continue to break records. D’Emanuele added that all four want to be good captains and continue to make Southwest a fun place to swim.
“So many of the younger girls are joining clubs in the offseason now,” Schwarkopf said. “So that’ll hopefully help us grow as a team.”
Aarseth, too, said he’s excited to see how the younger kids improve in the offseason. He said he’s looking forward to seeing how the four girls will help improve the team environment to ensure that all girls on the team have a good experience.
Yeager praised this year’s team captains for building an atmosphere that sets up the team, including D’Emanuele, Niebuhr, Schwarzkopf and Walton, for future success.
“I know that they will continue with those traditions and building that very inclusive environment,” she said.