Caroline Theil has been swimming most of her life.
A veteran of the pool, the Lincoln Pius X senior has competed in several large settings — three high school state meets, multiple junior national meets and the biggest meet of all on U.S. soil, the Olympic Trials.
But even Theil is still learning. Still testing her limits.
Take last weekend's Beatrice Invitational, for example. Theil, a four-time individual state champion, reeled off a time of 1 minute, 54.85 seconds in the 200-yard freestyle, the second-fastest time in the state this young season.
Theil, one of the top all-around swimmers in the state, credits the time to some tweaks in practice.
"I kind of swam it a little differently," she said. "I've been working a little more on the little aspects of my races lately, and I could really tell the work I've been doing in practice — to work on the little things — helped in that race.
"It kind of helped me know that I haven't reached my limit in swimming, that I have so much more to improve on and that my times can get faster if I work on these things."
Theil, a Texas A&M recruit, is preparing to compete in six events at the Junior Winter Championships in Iowa City, Iowa, beginning Thursday. When she returns to Nebraska, she'll turn her attention back to helping the Thunderbolts, who finished third at last season's state meet.
Theil made an immediate impact as a freshman, winning state titles in the 200- and 100-yard freestyle events. Those victories helped set the tone, building confidence for a swimmer who was more known for her individual medley strokes than freestyle.
"Freshman year when I swam the freestyle races, it made me really focus on more being out of my comfort zone, so that's where I started to work my fly, which I think really helped my IM, which has helped everything improve."
Theil, who competed in the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials in Omaha, won a 100 butterfly state title as a sophomore and a 200 individual medley crown (2:01.63) as a junior. She wants to set a state record before her high school career is done, and is hoping work outside the pool translates to faster times.
Theil said she is putting more emphasis into lifting weights, hitting the gym three times a week. Running also has played a part. Theil went out for track last spring, and hopes it carries into pool training.
"When I ran track, I think that gave me a good perspective on other types of workouts, so I think that track aspect of it really helped me endurancewise," Theil said. "I can really tell lately. I think it's giving me more confidence also in the pool that I can tell it's making me feel stronger as an athlete."
Pius X coach Mike Witt said he has noticed a difference.
"You can kind of tell in a couple of her events, she's just swimming stronger that second 50 (yards), the second half of every event," Witt said. "It's just really paying off, that little bit of extra muscle mass."
In addition to aiming for a state record, Theil said she wants to help Pius X improve its standing at state. The Bolts finished behind Lincoln Southwest and Omaha Marian last season. The program has made a steady climb over the past few seasons.
"I think it comes down to, first off, Mike (Witt)," Theil said. "He's done a great job with the sets and encouraging people. But I think as a team, we're pretty close, we get along pretty well on the girls side. We have a lot of fun together."
Theil is one of seven Lincoln swimmers competing at Junior Winter Nationals. Southwest senior Kaitlyn Witt, who won a state title in the 100 butterfly last season, is competing. Witt and Theil are Greater Nebraska Swim Team club teammates. Pius X's Katie Stonehocker also is competing in Iowa City.
Southwest's Alana Palmer, a two-time individual state champ, and Berkeley Livingston, who won the 500 free state title last season, also are competing in Iowa City.
On the boys side, Southwest's Chas Nolte and Lincoln East's Alex Petty also are competing at the junior national meet.