Return of the Majettes

GRAND FORKS – Five years was long enough, and the Majettes were done waiting.

Not since 2008 had the Minot High girls swimming and diving team hoisted a state championship trophy.

Before the state meet finals Saturday at the University of North Dakota Natatorium, coach Dan Hinton delivered a short message to his girls.

“I wanna hang another banner in the pool,” he said.

The Majettes took Hinton’s message to heart and amassed 337 points to collect the 23rd state title in school history.

“It’s been a long time,” Hinton said. “It’s nice to have the title back in the West. It’s nice to have the title back in Minot High’s pool. It means a lot to the program.

“I really wanted these girls, especially the seniors, to understand what it feels like to be a state champion like so many Majette swimmers have.”

West Fargo, which had bested Minot in three prior meets, finished second with 326 points and Fargo North placed third with 315.

The Majettes held the lead for the final seven of 12 events, but needed clutch performances from junior Francesca Walker-Rozo and sophomore Emily Hamel in the third and last legs of the eighth event: the 200-yard freestyle relay.

Walker-Rozo, who placed second in the 100 butterfly and 50 freestyle, entered the pool with Minot in third, about a length behind West Fargo and Century.

“As long as we were close, I knew that Francesca and Emily were gonna tag-team it,” Hinton said.

Walker-Rozo staked the Majettes the lead on the back half of her leg and Hamel closed out the heat in a state record time of 1 minute, 38.21 seconds. The previous record (1:39.27) was set by Mandan in 1999.

“I knew that McKenna (Brown) and Josie (Gillund) swam the 500 free (the previous event) and they were probably exhausted,” Walker-Rozo said. “Emily and I were the only ones who had energy. I had to get the lead for Emily – she could finish it.”

The record-breaking relay extended Minot’s lead to 265-245.

After senior Sarah Bogenrief’s second-place finish two events later in the 100 breaststroke, the Majettes needed only to finish ninth in the 400 freestyle relay – the final event. Their drought-ending title was securely in the bag.

“Right before the 400 free – we had our parents scoring it all out – they looked at us with (one finger up) and we knew we got it,” Hamel said.

Walker-Rozo and Hamel also motored Minot to a comeback win in the meet-opening 200 medley relay.

Century junior Dani Bergeson staked the Patriots a one-length lead that held until the fifth turn, when Walker-Rozo caught Century and West Fargo on the butterfly leg. She again nudged the Majettes ahead and let Hamel finish it off.

“One of my teammates came up to me and said, ‘Make sure you keep up with (West Fargo senior) Danica Dutt,'” Walker-Rozo explained. “I shook my head and said, ‘No, she has to keep up with me.'”

Walker-Rozo’s split (23.69) was nearly a full second faster than the one turned in by Dutt, who was named the state senior athlete of the year.

“She really gets us ahead,” Hamel said of her teammate. “She just catches us up so much.”

Hamel and Walker-Rozo finished 1-2 in the 50 freestyle, with Hamel’s winning time (24.38) setting a personal best. Brown scored third-place finishes in the 500 freestyle and the 100 backstroke.

Along with Walker-Rozo, Hamel, Brown and Bogenrief, junior Sydney Clark notched first-team all-state honors. Senior Devin Scott made the all-state second team.

Hamel had trouble finding the words to describe her elation.

“This is so awesome,” she said. “It’s awesome being part of the winning team.”

Ryan Holmgren covers high school sports and general assignments. Follow him on Twitter @ryanholmgren.