Soon, Dannie Dilsaver will shake off her own references to Nemo.

But for now, the Lincoln Southwest graduate and 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials competitor will continue to joke about swimming like everyone's favorite clown fish.

Dilsaver is back in the pool and nearly back to full health after suffering an ACL tear in her left knee last winter. She has shown no signs of rust during this week's Lincoln Sectional VIII meet at Woods Pool.

The University of California freshman-to-be won the 400-meter individual medley on Thursday, and finished second in three other events — the 100, 200 and 400 freestyles, with the 400 free finish coming on a hot Friday evening.

Dilsaver has gradually regained her form. She started doing flutter kicks again in March, and butterfly strokes in May. She was cleared in June to practice the breaststroke.

"It's kind of been a process getting comfortable with pushing my breaststroke a little bit," Dilsaver said Friday. "I always joke around with (club coaches) Mike and Leigh Ann (Fetter-Witt) that my kicks are like Nemo because my left leg is still kind of shallow and my right leg is OK. So I have a little kick and a big kick."

The breaststroke requires more torque of the legs and puts more pressure on the knee joints.

The Lincoln Sectional event is Dilsaver's fourth competitive meet since her setback, which occurred about a week before the high school season was to begin.

The Southwest swimming team was playing kickball before the start of school. Dilsaver went to field a ball, saw a runner coming her way, fell and felt something give in her left knee.

Dilsaver's mind immediately went to worst-case scenario, but she said she calmed herself down and made her way back to the locker room to get ready for school. Dilsaver sat down, but when she went to stand, she couldn't.

"I knew it wasn't good," she said.

A fluke injury had washed away Dilsaver's senior season in the pool. She was aiming for individual state gold medal Nos. 6 and 7, and more gold in the relays.

"It was really hard," Dilsaver said. "There were a lot of goals that I didn't get a chance to go after this season."

Dilsaver, who swims club for Greater Nebraska Swim Team, did the next best thing. She was there at the meets for her teammates. She even got a chance to award a gold medal to teammate Berkeley Livingston at the state meet podium, a gesture typically reserved for the coaches.

Dilsaver also heard from her future teammates at Cal, who texted her the night before her surgery. Kathleen Baker, who won silver at the Rio Games, was one of the Cal Bears that signed a postcard for Dilsaver in January.

The time out of the water also made Dilsaver a stronger swimmer.

"I think I've learned a lot through this process," she said. "I've been become a lot smarter of a swimmer. I know a lot more about my body and my strokes than before. I think it's going to help me out in the long run.

"And it made me appreciate just the little things about swimming, and the hard practices that you may not enjoy necessarily when you're doing them. I learned to appreciate them a lot more. So the pain of swimming was something I missed. "

Witt said Dilsaver is returning back to form. He pointed to the Iowa Pink meet in June when Dilsaver took some big steps forward.

"She's just taking off from there," he said.

For instance, Dilsaver's long-course time of 58.19 seconds in the 100 freestyle on Wednesday is within a half second of her personal-best time. Dilsaver said she's 3 seconds off her personal-best times in the 400 freestyle and 400 IM (The 400 IM time of 4:56.05 was a U.S. Open cut).

"I think for the most part it's just getting more confident on (the leg)," said Dilsaver, who will head to Cal on Aug. 4. "The doctors cleared me to do everything so it's kind of just trusting it. I still have a little bit of a difference in terms of strength in my two legs just hadn't used my left leg for a couple months. It's starting to even out."

Dilsaver finished second in the 400 freestyle in 4:24.86 on Friday. Liberty Howell of Oklahoma won the event in 4:23.50.

The Lincoln Sectional will conclude Saturday. The prelims will begin at 9 a.m. and the finals at 5 p.m.

Reach the writer at 402-473-2639 or cgrell@journalstar.com. On Twitter @LJSSportsGrell.

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Sports editor

Clark Grell is sports editor.

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